The Seven Last Words of Jesus

Father, forgive them. They know not what they do… 

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By Sister Eileen Dooling 

It is so revealing that in his broken body with his broken heart, Jesus did not pray for himself…for ease of pain or for help to get through this excruciating and violent ordeal. Nor did Jesus pray in anger at a God who would allow this. Instead, Jesus prays for his executioners, the very people who have caused this suffering.   

As I reflected on this very powerful prayer of Jesus on the cross, the image of Salvador Dali’s painting of the Christ of Saint John of the Cross came to mind. In the painting we see the crucified Christ from above and in front of the crucifixion scene. Here Jesus looks out on the world, a lake and fishermen. It seems to me to not be limited by space or time. Indeed, Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness transcends time and includes all of history. And all of us. 

Forgive us. We know not what we do. Or: forgive us. We do know what we do! 

It is so easy to blame others for the pain in this world, for the cruelty which permeates our daily news. One author wrote that violence begins in our need to be right. And that ‘being right’ manifests itself in many areas of our lives; it often puts us in the position of choosing sides in debates of what is right and what is wrong. Forgiveness seems impossible and is regarded by some as a sign of weakness. 

Our own looking inward often reveals a personal animosity toward one another: a humor that hurts, a sarcastic comment, a point made. Or an unkindness towards oneself: the mistake I made that I cannot forgive, the self-expectation I can never achieve, the work ethic that leaves me weary and unavailable. Our insides are often not pretty. The poet Denise Levertov might call this the “burden of humanness,” and it is this burden that binds all of us together in this human community. “Forgive us. We know not what we do.” 

Forgiveness is, of course, tied to Mercy. As we know from experience, God’s forgiveness, God’s mercy, is abundant and unlimited, available for the asking. It is offered to the undeserving, all of us. Embracing our own need for mercy, for forgiveness, creates in us a need to forgive one another.   “Forgive us, as we forgive…”  

As the crucified Jesus looks out on our world, his prayer for forgiveness is comforting. Trusting that God will give us what we need and knowing that we are called to be the merciful love of God in this world, may we have open hearts, forgiven and forgiving, as we continue to “walk each other home.” (Ram Dass)