The Good Eye – The Generous Heart of Jesus

The Good Eye – The Generous Heart of Jesus

The Good Eye – The Generous Heart of Jesus.

“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34).

One reading of the four Gospels and the generous heart of Jesus would be inescapable. He was the friend of sinners, outcasts, the unclean, the prostitutes, the sick, those rejected by religion, the demon possessed. Jesus revealed the ultimate magnanimous heart, the heart of the Father. Jesus, quick to forgive, to embrace the worst of us, to recognize we are but dust and frail without Him, He consistently demonstrated the good eye for all to see. Full of grace and truth, He weighted the scales in the favor of sinners.

Barbara Brown Taylor, in her sermon “In the Name of Law and Order,” posed an intriguing question: Who was Jesus thinking of when He asked the Father to forgive “them?” Who is “them?”I decided to take her question and run with it. We do know that by praying that prayer on the cross, Jesus was echoing Isaiah 53:12, which declares that the Suffering Servant was “interceding for the rebellious.” But for whom was Jesus interceding as He suffered His torturous death, as He fulfilled His eternal role as the Great Intercessor? Jesus seems to be asking the Father not to charge certain people with the depravity involved with killing the very Son of God. Jesus is pleading with the Father to overlook the wrongs of these perpetrators, since they do  not understand the profound role they play in this cosmic drama. These abusers and traitors simply can’t grasp this deep mystery, and how they are part of God’s grand scheme of prophecy fulfillment and eternal salvation. His prayer was profoundly merciful, mouthing those words as he gasped for air. His Spirit of grace simply overflowed as He convulsed in pain. Who did He want forgiven… all those who did Him harm, or only those who repented? Because of Jesus’ unlimited loving-kindness, it could be a mistake to draw too small a circle of those being forgiven.

Some Biblical scholars claim that the Greek text implies a repetitive action, that His prayer on the cross was not a one-time prayer. Jesus evidently continued praying this prayer of forgiveness. He kept asking the Father to forgive all those who had done Him wrong during His Passion.  One can easily imagine Jesus, in his depleted, exhausted mind, hanging on the cross, mentally going through an inventory of who needs to be forgiven. In his continuing prayer, Jesus considered everyone who had a hand in the sacrifice of the Innocent One.

Father, forgive the disciples. Hand-picked personal friends of Jesus, they had seen many ups and downs together during the years of ministry. They performed miracles two by two, they heard His teachings and parables. They traveled extensively around the countryside and towns, communicating the wisdom of God. They saw Jesus walk on water and calm the storm. They saw Him feed the thousands and restore sanity to the man at the tombs. And yet, they abandoned Jesus when He needed them most. Even after they all said they would rather die than desert Jesus, they fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah 13:7, “Strike down the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” Some of them fell asleep during His agony in the Garden, while the others were nowhere to be found. Of the Twelve, only John had the courage to approach Jesus while on the cross. The disciples left Him in His time of need. Their short memories and cowardice were plain to see. Father, forgive the disciples, for they don’t know what they are doing.

Father, forgive Judas. Here we have the main culprit in the Passion of Christ. Here is the betrayer who was once personally chosen  by Jesus in prayer to the Father. Here is the longtime disciple who accompanied Jesus and the other disciples during His ministry, who heard every word, who saw every miracle. Somehow, though, Jesus knew early on that He couldn’t trust Judas, who was skimming off some of the money entrusted to him. Jesus even called Judas a “devil” early on in the ministry (John 6:70). Nonetheless, just before the betrayal, Jesus had the grace to wash Judas’ feet. What was Jesus feeling as He so tenderly cared for Judas the betrayer? What was Judas thinking while his feet were being washed by the Man he would soon betray? Why did Judas do this? Was he merely a pawn in Satan’s game, vulnerable to Satan’s manipulation? We do know Judas fulfilled many prophecies in the Hebrew Bible, including Psalm 41:9 and Psalm 55:12-14. Was Judas disappointed in Jesus because he wanted political change, and Jesus was only offering spiritual change? Was he merely greedy for money, or for status if Jesus succeeded in overthrowing Roman occupation? We’ll never know, exactly. We do know he repented of his betrayal, he threw the silver pieces back in the faces of the priests, and that he was so filled with guilt and shame that he killed himself. Judas ended up being a traitor and a tragic failure, the one that got away. Is he indeed “headed for destruction” forever? Father, forgive Judas, for he didn’t know what he was doing.

Father, forgive Annas. He was a retired high priest, still a powerful elder in the Temple, and he retained much authority in the eyes of many Jews. He was the father-in-law of the current high priest Caiaphus. The religious authorities and Temple guards brought Jesus to Annas first for a pretrial hearing. Because of the need to compromise with Rome, Annas was more political than religious. He was a weak beaurocrat without much of a spine. During this hearing, Annas asked Jesus many questions, especially about the content of Jesus’ teachings. Jesus brushed him off and merely told Annas to ask His followers. Annas shrugged his shoulders, bound Jesus, and sent Him to Caiaphus. Annas was the first domino to fall in the rush to condemn Jesus. Father, forgive Annas, for he doesn’t know what he is doing.

Father, forgive the religious authorities. There were many leading priests, scribes and elders who jumped on the bandwagon early to kill Jesus. They were plotting to murder Him while he was engaged in His public ministry. They were seemingly always out to get Him, to prove Him wrong, to harass and trap Him. They were the ones who paid Judas the 30 pieces of silver to betray Jesus. They were the ones who suggested that Barabbas be released instead of Jesus. And they were the ones who mocked, scorned and jeered at Jesus as He was being tortured to death. During their gloating, they even quoted scripture back in Jesus’ face on the cross, “Is this the one who relies on the Lord? Then let the Lord save him! If the Lord loves him so much, let the Lord rescue him!” (Ps. 22:8 and Matthew 27:41-43). In their apparent victory over Jesus, they relished the idea of adding insult to injury. Father, forgive the religious authorities, for they don’t know what they are doing.

Father, forgive Caiaphus. He was the ruling high priest, and his job seemed to be much more political than spiritual or religious. It was important that he kept the Jews subservient to Rome and a peaceful occupied country. There was to be no religious revolts that would cause political unrest. All Temple operations needed to remain status quo. The worst offense a Jew could commit, though, would be blasphemy against the Name of Yahweh. The Romans did not give permission for the Jews to sentence anyone to death, which is just what Caiaphus had in mind for Jesus. During his trial questioning before Caiaphus, Jesus made it clear that He considered Himself co-equal to the Lord Yahweh, akin to the Great I AM (Ex. 3:14). As soon as Jesus claimed to be the I AM in Caiaphus’ presence, the high priest flew into a rage, tore his robe, and called for the Jewish high council to condemn Jesus to death. Caiaphus’ mind was already made up before the hearing… Jesus was a blasphemer and should die. The trial continued marching to the cross, and Caiaphus was a major instigator to that end. Father, forgive Caiaphus, for he doesn’t know what he is doing.

Father, forgive the Sanhedrin. This was a group of 70 elders that comprised the Jewish supreme court. They were the most powerful body of leaders, and they decided all the important cases, both religious and even some lower-level political. They judged most of the disputes in the Jews’ daily life, whether it was a Temple matter or a civil case. When Jesus was being tried in front of them, the high council made a mockery of the justice system, seeking false witnesses to condemn Jesus. After they declared His guilt and sentenced Him to death, they gathered around Him and spit in Jesus’ face, beat Him with their fists, slapped Him and mocked Him. The Sanhedrin, the highly revered high council, seemed to lose all objectivity and all sense of propriety, moral reasoning, and sound judgment. They were blinded by their hatred of Jesus. After physically attacking Jesus, they bound Him and took Him to Pilate. Father, forgive the Sanhedrin, for they don’t know what they  are doing.

Father, forgive Peter. Peter was the leader of the Twelve, and probably the closest friend to Jesus during their years together. He was brash, impulsive, impetuous, and yet was faithful to Jesus throughout their ministry. He was the first disciple to declare that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Son of God, the disciples’ first confession of faith in Jesus. Peter was given the amazing privilege of being present at the Transfiguration. He once declared that he would never desert Jesus, and would rather die than abandon Him. And yet, there he was sleeping while Jesus suffered in the Garden. He couldn’t seem to do anything right that fateful night. With good intentions he took up a sword at Jesus’ arrest, and was quickly rebuked by Him. He promised to never deny Jesus, and he soon broke that promise by denying Him three times. He first denied knowing Jesus; then he denied being one of His followers; then he denied even knowing what those accusers were even talking about. After these denials, Peter went off by himself and wept bitterly in shame, humiliation and guilt. At this point, Peter was a big disappointment, to himself and to Jesus. Father, forgive Peter, for he doesn’t know what he is doing.

Father, forgive Pilate. He was the insecure, belligerent Roman governor of Judea, where Jerusalem was located. He evidently loved to badger the occupied Jews to keep them under his thumb. On the other hand, his job was to stifle any possible revolt against the Roman occupation. Pilate was directly accountable to Caesar, so he had to watch his step. Any Jewish unrest had to be handled or he was out of a job. Since the Jewish authorities didn’t have the power to condemn someone to capital punishment, Pilate was soon confronted with Jesus, the Temple leaders, and a crowd of rowdy bystanders. Pilate questioned Jesus and declared Him innocent three separate times, but each time the Jewish leaders found that decision unacceptable. They wanted Jesus to die, and they finally got their wish, after threatening to tell Caesar about Jesus claiming to be a king. Pilate became desperate to appease the Jews, since the bystanders were turning into a mob. Even after his wife warned him, Pilate soon relented, releasing a murderer instead of Jesus. Pilate handed Jesus over to the soldiers for a near fatal flogging and to crucifixion. He gave the bloodthirsty crowd what they wanted, despite his inner conflicts. In the end, he may have tried washing his hands of the whole mess, but his partial responsibility for the suffering and death of Jesus stuck to him like glue. Father, forgive Pilate, for he doesn’t know what he is doing.

Father, forgive the crowd. That unruly mob standing at Pilate’s door was ready to be riled up, for sure. They allowed themselves to get out of hand by the religious authorities who kept egging them on. Were some of these bystanders the same ones who just a week ago were waving palm branches and shouting, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord“? Well, they were now yelling “Crucify him! Crucify him!” at the top of their lungs. They supported the idea of releasing Barabbas, not the Innocent One. They were not a group of innocent bystanders. They were a lynch mob. Jesus just stood there, mutely taking it all in. Father, forgive the crowd, for they don’t know what they are doing.

Father, forgive Herod. It is Herod’s turn to question Jesus after Pilate had his first time with Him. Pilate decided to send Jesus to Herod, since Herod was the governor of Galilee, Jesus’ home territory. Herod just happened to be in Jerusalem at the time, so Pilate thought, why not give Herod a crack at this guy? Standing before Herod, Jesus knew very well that this was the man who beheaded his close cousin and prophet John the Baptist. Even with that history, Jesus stood silent. Herod asked Jesus questions, but He didn’t want to dignify them with a response. Jesus refused to answer because He knew that Herod just wanted to  make sport of Him. Herod wanted Jesus to whip up a few miracles, like a religious circus performer. Herod proceeded to mock Him, jeer at Him, ridicule Him, then he shrugged and sent Him back to his new pal Pilate. Herod treated the whole hearing as if it was a reality show, just for him. Jesus was not a Person that Herod took seriously. He ended up ignoring Jesus and getting on with business. Father, forgive Herod, for he doesn’t know what he is doing.

Father, forgive the Roman soldiers. They were a brutal killing machine. They flogged Jesus to within an inch of his life, with lead-tipped whips. They mocked and jeered, they scorned and ridiculed. They beat Jesus with their fists, they taunted Him, they spit in His face. They took His clothes off and put on a red robe to humiliate Him. They gave Him a reed to hold as a royal scepter, then they took the reed back and beat Him with it. They clipped branches off the nearby Jerusalem thorn bush with two inch thorns, wove a crown, and jammed it into His scalp. They nailed his hands and feet to the wooden cross and left Him there to die in agony. To add disdain to the abuse, they sat at the foot of the cross and rolled some dice for Jesus’ seamless garment, as His blood dripped down on them. The soldiers showed no mercy, they were grossly inhumane, and Jesus submitted to all of it. Father, forgive the Roman soldiers, for they don’t know what they are doing.

Father, forgive them? Forgive them all? They deserve judgment, not forgiveness! To His dying breath, Jesus had forgiveness on His mind. It all seems preposterous and counter-intuitive. But Jesus’ earlier words to His disciples seem to anticipate what Jesus did on the cross. He was magnanimous to the end, incarnating His message of grace and forgiveness.

“But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also… Love your enemies! Do good to them.” (Luke 6:27-29, 35; NLT).