Sunday, April 8, 2012

It's Easter and I am looking back to Good Friday

Every year during Holy Week, I hear and read Tony Campolo's powerful, pertinent "It's Friday, but Sunday's Coming." Apparently I've got it wrong, though. It's Easter Sunday and I am looking back to Good Friday.

Specifically, I'm thinking of one sentence associated with the Passion story, a disputed sentence: Luke 23:34: "Then Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing'" (NRSV).[1] Regardless of who put this sentence in the story and why, it portrays the Jesus of Luke asking for forgiveness of people ignorant of what they are doing. Likely, they lack full knowledge of the significance of what they are doing, since they obviously know they are crucifying a man. But what else are they doing? Perhaps squashing a revolt against Rome that could free, at the least, the Israelites in that area. Perhaps stopping a spiritual and moral awakening that could change society for the better. Perhaps killing a Messiah. Perhaps killing God or a god.

What did this Jesus think they were doing? Apparently something needing forgiveness, something I assume was not the will of God (unless Jesus' God punishes people for things they are meant/forced/divinely coerced to do). They did something wrong, something they may never understand to be wrong. In that moment, Jesus saw their deeds, judged them to be wrong, knew nothing of whether or not they would ever change or repent, and then he wanted their forgiveness.

I hear a lot of Christians talk about people needing to believe in God, "accept" the sacrifice of "his" son, repent, and then and only then will forgiveness and salvation be rewarded. Forgiveness, though, isn't part of a transaction. If a person does their part and God grants something deserved, something due and expected, not forgiveness. Paying a debt or fulfilling criteria equal righting a wrong, not being forgiven. Forgiveness is something done only by the forgiver and not merited by the forgiven. Forgiveness is a gracious act, not part of a deal. It is an act of compassion, to give someone what they don't deserve.

This Easter, I want that forgiveness to be resurrected. I want to look back to Holy Friday and see the goodness that came from Luke's Jesus (or some redactor's Jesus). I want for that forgiveness to be resurrected and be alive in my heart, my mind, and in my very body that forgiveness will be evident in my actions.

But it isn't. And to get preachy, I know few in whom it is alive. As for myself, I'm bitter and unforgiving. I'm enraged by politics, by waste, by economics, by greed, by religion, even by Christians and the Christ of most Christianities I encounter.

Easter will never be enough if we can't first look back and see what needs to be resurrected. It isn't the man, it is the life he lived.


[1] The sentence doesn't appear in a number of ancient manuscripts and may not have been in the original text. Since I don't look on any of the Gospel stories as factual accounts, I'm not too worried about whether or not the historical Jesus said that sentence or if the author of Luke included the sentence in the first place. These questions are important, but they don't hold the key to unlocking truths from this passage. For more on where the sentence appears and doesn't, including how ancient commentators deal with the subject, I recommend Nathan Eubank, "A Disconcerting Prayer: On the Originality of Luke 23:34a," Journal of Biblical Literature 129.3 (2010): 521-36.

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