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Father Forgive Them; They Don't Know What They're Doing
April 7, 2023

First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto

LUKE 23:34

The soldiers crucified Jesus. They laid him on a cross, pounded nails into his hands and raised the cross into a vertical position.

Jesus looked at the priests who were taunting him.

He looked at the crowds who mocked and jeered.

He looked at the soldiers who were gambling for his clothes.

He looked at the two thieves who were being crucified with him.

He looked at the small group of women followers. His mother was one of them.

And then he looked at the Centurion, a Roman soldier in charge of 100 men. 

I wondered what the Centurion was experiencing. I’m going to use my imagination and tell you what I think he might have experienced. Please try to visualize me as the Centurion.

 Good evening, I am the Centurion. I was asked to come tonight and tell what I witnessed that dark day. I know he was looking right at me. With piercing eyes that looked right through people, yet eyes filled with tenderness and love, he looked at me.

And he said, "Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing." A criminal on a cross asking forgiveness for those who crucified him? Forgiveness for those who pounded nails into his flesh, and forced him to die a tortured, painful, humiliating death? Nothing like this had ever happened before. Forgiveness was not a virtue in my Roman life. We were taught to get even with those who hurt us, not forgive them. Yet, here was a man bravely enduring pain and humiliation, forgiving us.

I stood there as if my feet were nailed to the ground. I looked into his eyes, and I felt something break within me. I felt a sense of release. I felt as if a heavy load had been lifted from my shoulders. I felt as if I were free, as if I could fly. I felt like I was being cleansed. Hatred, bitterness, vengeance were all washed away. Like a mighty flood, forgiveness flowed through me, filling me with peace. I felt contentment. I was now a good person, forgiven and accepted. I felt loved by God. And, strangely, I had this feeling come over me of love for other people, a feeling of gentleness, kindness, patience, tolerance, healing. 

Suddenly we were jolted by an earthquake. The earth shook and the sky darkened. Even nature acquiesced to the power radiating from this man on the cross. Even nature responded to him .

And when he died, I was compelled to say "Truly, surely, this is the Son of God.”

© 2023 Douglas I. Norris