Christians during Lent reflect on the Lord’s Seven Words, His last seven expressions on the Cross as recorded in the Scripture:
The first word: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Gospel of Luke 23:34. According to scholars, Jesus said this first word only in the Gospel of Luke, just after he was crucified by the soldiers on Golgotha, with the criminals – one to His right and the other to His left.
The timing of this suggests that Jesus asked his Father to primarily forgive the soldiers who have whipped and scourged him, mocked him, tortured him, and who have just nailed Him to the Cross.
But, scholars have asked. Could this not also apply to His apostles and the latter’s companions who have deserted Him, to Peter who has denied Him three times, to the fickle-minded crowd, who only days before praised Him on His entrance to Jerusalem, and then days later chose Him over Barabbas to be crucified?
When asked by Peter, how many times should we forgive someone, Jesus answers 70 times seven (Matthew 18:21-22). At the Last Supper, Jesus explains his crucifixion to His Apostles when he tells them to drink of the cup: “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28).
He forgives the paralytic at Capernaum (Mark 2:5), and the adulteress caught in the publicly despicable act and about to be stoned (John 8:1-11).
As we reflect on the Lord’s First Word, we note what former University of Santo Tomas Rector. Rev. Fr. Rolando V. de la Rosa said several years ago during the Lenten celebration at the Santo Domingo Church in Quezon City.
The Dominican priest had said Jesus was asking God to forgive the people who had a hand in his death – despite enduring hours of shame, intense pain, fear, and sadness.
Reflecting on the First Word, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” De la Rosa reminded the audience that God was not to be feared because He would punish.
“Do not be afraid to sin because God will punish you. Be afraid to sin because sin brings its own punishment,” De la Rosa said.
He also explained that some Christians have the built-in desire to be punished because they wrongly believe that was the only way by which God would love them.
People in turn have “transformed themselves into other gods” who punish their own selves, De la Rosa said, citing as cases in point self-flagellation and crucifixion, traditions that Filipinos practice during the Lenten Season.
De la Rosa said most people find it hard to accept that God loves His people without condition, and fail to recognize Jesus’ words of forgiveness on the cross, adding Jesus reminded His people that real power and real strength lies on one’s ability “to control his desire to retaliate and to inflict punishment on others.”