“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34).
I have been reflecting on the Gospel of Saint Luke that explains Christ’s chastisement of the apostles James and John for wanting to take vengeance on the Samaritans who disrespected Him (Luke 9:51-56).
“Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem. And He sent messengers ahead of Him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for Him; but the people would not receive Him, because His face was set toward Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?’ But He turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village.” (Luke 9:51-56).
Christ – who was God Himself – was disrespected in such a way by those people who He went to help that His disciples wanted to rain down fire upon those others.
And the interesting thing about this story – to me – is that Christ was well within His rights and well within His JUSTICE to punish those who disrespected Him. After all, Christ is God and God is INFINITELY PERFECT JUSTICE.
Perfect JUSTICE means that for every action there is an equal consequence. Thus, the perfectly JUST CONSEQUENCES of those men rejecting God Himself and harming Him (through their words and deeds) was for God to reject them by allowing them to burn eternally in the FIRES of Hell…
And what strikes me as so strange about all of this is that the very punishment that the men DESERVED is the very punishment that God the Son rebuked the apostles for requesting for them.
I recently finished reading the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalski, and the pivotal message of that text – in Christ’s own words to the Saint – is that souls can chose, using their own free will, to go through the doorway of God’s Infinite Justice or to go through the doorway of God’s Infinite Mercy…
As I was reading this Diary I was continually struck by the idea that this message of mercy was something NEW. “Why haven’t we heard about this before?” I would ask my sisters. “How come we didn’t learn about this at school?” I would add. “How was something this important lost on me before now?”
But the more I reflect on that text and the more that I meditated on this short passage of the Gospel, the more it occurs to me that we have ALWAYS known about the Infinite Mercy of God.
After all – what could be more merciful than the Son of Man holding back his apostles from attacking His attackers? And that was not the only time that Christ showed mercy. When He was sending out the apostles to all the nations, He told them… “But if you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go into the streets and declare, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off as a testimony against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.’” (Luke 10:11). He did not say, take vengeance. He did not say punish them. He did not say ban others from going there He said… Walk away but warn them – lovingly – that they are wrong…
And of course, what could be a greater sign of mercy than the Son of Man calling out with His dying breath… “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) and His Blessed Mother’s HOLY silence upon hearing those words!
What greater gift of Mercy could God possibly offer to us than His FORGIVENESS in the face of ANY sin? As Pope Francis said, “What a great gift the Lord has given us in teaching us to forgive!”
And the Saints set such a good example of this forgiveness for us – because it is our job to model the forgiveness of God by showing God’s mercy to our neighbours. It is in this way that we can choose to become like God Himself and what a marvellous HONOUR that would be…
Once, in 1929, when Saint Josemaría was on a tram, a man who was covered in lime, deliberately bumped against the Saint staining his cassock. In response, Saint Josemaría turned to the man with a smile and said affectionately, “My son, let us finish this.” And hugging the man to him, he finished the job of ruining the cassock…
And as I reflect on this passage of the Gospel, and on the Infinite Mercy of God, and on the actions of the saints – being surrounded in this way by the loving reminders of God’s love for us – I pray that I shall always choose mercy.
For I love my Lord with all my heart, with all my mind and with all my soul. And I would do anything to reflect a little of Him to all the world.
And to chose mercy I must be merciful – and that is an infinitely small price to pay for the God who forgave me because I knew not what I did…
For with prayer, I stand on Holy Ground where everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.