Forgiveness is hard. It is a little easier when the other person is ‘caught;’ or sorry; or we feel strong; or have been vindicated; are confident they will get their comeuppance.
Jesus is being executed as one of the basest criminals by the legal authorities; He is physically exhausted and in excruciating pain; there is no sorrow; and Jesus is being mocked for who he actually is: Saviour, Christ and King (vv.35-38).
And yet even then Jesus prays that God will forgive those who are committing these gross acts of violence and injustice.
Jesus knew from centuries before that He would have to go through this, because God had prophesied through Isaiah: “they made his grave with the wicked … although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. He willingly gave his life and was treated like a criminal … and asked forgiveness for those who sinned.” (Isaiah 53:9&12) and foresaw through the Psalmist “they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” (Psalm 22:18)
How was Jesus able to ask for forgiveness? We can only wonder. Perhaps it helped to know that by going through this “he carried away the sins of many people” (Isaiah 53:12) – that there was a greater purpose to his suffering; perhaps it helped to believe that “they do not know what they are doing” (v.34); perhaps it helped to recognise that the whole system in the world needs turning on its head, and that the hope of things being done God’s way is worth standing for even in the face of opposition, mockery and pain.
But however Jesus found the love and the courage, and whatever he felt at the time, he made a choice to forgive which he brought to God in prayer.
Suggestions for prayer and praise
Choose to ask God to forgive someone who has hurt you.