Sermon for Good Friday Yr C, 9/04/2004
Based on Lk 23:33-34
By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of the Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“Father Forgive Them…”
Most of us are familiar with the popular saying: “Ignorance is bliss.” But I wonder, how many of us really believe that is true in our daily existence?
How often have we done something out of ignorance only to discover that another person or group of people were offended by our words or actions? This is an everyday occurrence. We do and say things without knowing and thinking of their consequences. Quite often when someone tells us the hurt, pain or upset we’ve caused them, we defend ourselves by saying something like this: “I never realized,” or “I never thought.” When we learn of the hurt, pain or upset caused by our ignorance; or when we are hurt, in pain or upset over someone else’s ignorance, we are certainly not in a state of bliss! O how much hurt and pain we cause one another because of our ignorance! “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
Up until the last two or three decades or so, science and technology marched ahead triumphantly without giving too much thought about the environment. There have been some great inventions, which, at the time seemed beneficial to us all. Everything from refrigerators to jet airplanes and fast-foods and computers has supposedly made life “better” for us. Only recently have we been informed that our ignorance about how many of these things damage the environment certainly is not bliss. Many of these things, which originally had been viewed as good or safe are now polluting our environment with things like CFCs, destroying the ozone layer, thus making us more vulnerable to the sun’s harmful rays. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Several years ago, in our Canada Lutheran magazine, the then editor, Ferdy Baglo, wrote a piece about his visit to El Salvador, which at the time was still under much turmoil, even more so than it is today. He told of how many of the people in the Church worked among the poor were often labelled “communist/subversives” by the military-backed right-wing death squads. The military believed they were doing good by stopping communism. Many in the Church said it was the military, not the guerrillas who were killing innocent people, bombing Church offices, and threatening Church leaders. It was also believed that the life of El Salvadoran Lutheran Bishop Gomez was quite likely in danger. In ignorance it would seem that those who were so certain of doing good for their country may very well have hindered Christ’s work and even have crucified Christ again whenever innocent people were tortured and murdered. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
One of the worst, most tragic paradoxes of Christ’s crucifixion is the sinful ignorance of some Jewish and Roman authorities. They were dead certain about what was best for “the common good.” Their pride, arrogance, and certainty were beyond reproach. They knew everything there was to know about Jesus Christ. In reality, they who thought they had seen and known him so well did not—they were blind. They did not see or know in any way, shape or form Jesus as Saviour and Lord; to them he was merely an eccentric sage, magician, rabbi, and prophet; misleading the masses; he could never be Saviour of the world or Lord of lords.
According to Luke, right after Jesus was hung on the cross he prays a prayer for his enemies, his adversaries, and the key people who were instrumental in having him crucified! Now that’s truly incredible! Do you realise what pain and agony he must have been going through? I wonder if we would ever have it in us to do such a thing if we were in Christ’s situation? I doubt it—we would be more apt to complain bitterly, perhaps even curse our enemies. They very people who hated and rejected him so much, now he was praying: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” For Caiaphas, for Judas, for Pilate and Herod, for the Roman soldiers, for the people who sneered at and mocked him; for Jews and Gentiles alike; for his fickle disciples; for everyone in every time and place—including you and me here today: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
When we stand in Christ’s presence at the foot of the cross; we discover that we are no better than everyone in Jesus’ day. Our plots and schemes; our lusts for power and success; our hatred and rejection; our betrayals and denials; our sinful ignorance must be nailed to the cross and die. “Father, forgive them; Father forgive you; Father forgive me; Father forgive us all for they; for you; for I; for we; do not know what they; what you; what I; what we do. Help us to forgive like you do Christ.” Amen.