And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:33-34)
The words of Christ are powerful and meaningful --all of them. There is no doubt that each one is pored over, studied and cherished, but perhaps none more so than the last seven that He spoke from the cross on that fateful Friday that we call Good. It is probably most appropriate that during Lent we take time to look at each, and what it means to us.
Of all the words that Jesus could have spoken, one of forgiveness is not on my list. If it were me it might be anger. Having been brutally mistreated, beaten, whipped, spat on and scoffed at, I would be angry. I might call down curses on those who treated me so terribly and shamefully. Dust off my sandals, it will be better for Sodom and Gomorrah on the last day than for these people! How terrible it is to be treated this way.
Or maybe it would be one of defiance. "You think that you can take my life, but you will never take my message and spirit. Do to me what you will; this will not be the end of me!" Defiant to the end, never willing to admit defeat--that might have been the way I would have gone to skull rock.
But no, this was not how Jesus went. Willingly. Freely. Even knowing the pain and punishment coming, He didn't make a fuss or try to delay. He looked at that cross and willingly went, "who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2).
And when he got there, as the nails were being pounded in and the blood poured down, He didn't call down curses, shout angry things or even defiantly make a stand. No, what He did was even more profound than that. Jesus forgave them. Forgiveness offered freely. Forgiveness given to all, even those who were responsible for nailing him there. Christ died to forgive all sins. For the sins of those who nailed him there, for the sins of all the generations before them, for the sins that I have committed, and even for the sins that you have committed.
It is why Jesus came: "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10). There is nothing that could deter Him for this--not the lies of the Pharisees, not the desertion of those whom He loved, not Satan and his minions. Nothing would keep Jesus from fulfilling what He came for--to save all people.
So the first thing He says shows the extent to which he would go. "Father, forgive them." It is what he came for. It is why we take time during Lent to reflect on all that God has given us. It is one of the most important words ever, a word of forgiveness.