They do not know what they are doing? Well, no they didn’t know exactly, they were too blinded by their sin. They were too wrapped up in their own self-importance, their own sense of control and fear to even begin to fathom what they were doing. They…the ones who killed Jesus. The only question is who are “they”?
It is so easy to name others; easy to blame others. Caiaphas, the priest, the Pharisees, Sadducees and scribes all conspired to falsely accuse Jesus. Herod turned his back on God, Jesus and the Jewish people. Even the crowd was swayed to call for the release of Barabbas and demand Jesus be killed. Pilate had opportunity to free Jesus but chose to order the crucifixion of an innocent man. The Roman soldiers followed the execution order with no regard for Jesus’ life. They all played their part and conspired against Jesus. It seems there was no shortage of people to blame, all those who wanted to keep Jesus’ kingdom from infringing on theirs.
And yet where are we when Jesus’ kingdom infringes on ours? Surely our sinfulness led Jesus to the cross. When we look at the definition of “they” we have to begin by looking in the mirror. As the apostle John teaches us, “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1John 1:8). Jesus was innocent of all charges made against him. Yet because of our sin, he endured the pain, humiliation and shame of the cross. In essence, because of our age old rebellion, we too are numbered among those who crucified Jesus.
Surely Jesus could have cursed the sinners who nailed him to the tree. Surely he should have raged at us for the evil we do, the evil we do both knowing and unknowing. Yet, Jesus has compassion. With words uttered from the cross, he intercedes for us. Jesus begs his Father to forgive them, forgive us, “they don’t know what they are doing.”
The same compassion of God that brought Christ to earth, to serve God’s people, is the same compassion that compelled him to the cross. It is the power of God’s love that brings incredible, unbelievable grace for those whose sin made such sacrifice necessary. God’s compassion echoes through the centuries as Christ’s words are heard by all people who, through sin, participate in the crucifixion of our Lord.
Today, compassion cries out yet again. Today we are reminded of the victory of Jesus over sin and death. “For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). For our sake, compassion cries out from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Photo: The shrouded crucifix at the altar – Union Lutheran Church, Salisbury, NC