“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Luke 23:34
“They know not what they do.” Were they ignorant or are we to believe Jesus was naïve? Is it honest to say about such a deliberate act as the crucifixion that those involved did not know their role?
On Saturday I was awakened by a tiny kiss. My wife had gone out for breakfast; I was practicing second sleep[i]. During Saturday second sleep I am almost comatose; it is as close to a near death experience as I will probably ever get . . . but I felt the tiny kiss. I opened my eyes only to find that my vision was filled by the round smiling face of my youngest daughter. She then turned, walked out of the room and closed the door behind her, the smile never fading, almost Mona Lisa in nature, serving only to raise suspicion, to stimulate thought. I did not think how pleasant it was to be awakened by a tiny kiss. I did not think of how loving my little girl is. My first thought of the day was that I had been betrayed by a kiss. I knew something was wrong. Investigation revealed her desire to pull out all of her big sister’s clothes and play dress up; a situation that would require hazmat clean up. She kissed me to see if I were actually dead, thus giving her freedom to create disaster.
We like to laugh about it, but we know in all of us exists potential for mischief. If we could kiss and kill our conscience there is no limit to the evil we could imagine. We stand in the world like a child who has just shattered the cookie jar.[ii] We know something bad is about to happen. We know something has gone horribly wrong.
After Adam tasted forbidden fruit he realized something was horribly wrong. For the first time he felt shame. For the first time he felt fear. For the first time he hid himself from God. Adam had never considered these feelings; no one had instructed him on how to cover sin, there was no lesson on guilt, he just knew. He was afraid – instinctively afraid.
Chuck Colson said, “Someone has quipped that the doctrine of original sin is the only philosophy empirically validated by thirty five centuries of recorded human history.”[iii] All we need to do is live, view, listen, experience, express and we know something is wrong. Catalog only a few passing thoughts from your day, thoughts never shared, and you know your heart is not what it should be.
Jesus was not declaring their ignorance, nor was He exposing His own nativity. Jesus was declaring that something had gone horribly wrong. “They know not what they do.”
It was indeed a horrible scene, a naked man, disfigured, beaten, covered in blood, writhing in pain, fastened to wood with spikes, encircled by death. Mel Gibson interpreted the scene on film, it was rated “R.” As blood drips from his feet soldiers play a game of chance, the winner gets a dying man’s cloth. The air is filled with insult, cursing, and satire. Lending more color to callousness is the fact that nothing about his scene is uncommon. Jesus’ death is only one of three this day, and theirs only three of many scheduled to die on a hill called skull.
The Academy Awards celebrate the best stories of our year recorded on film. The five most nominated films of 2007 were rooted in plots that portrayed the worst of humanity. They were filled with images of blood, corruption, violence, vulgarity, curse, lust, dishonesty, and greed. Is this our world? Is Hollywood right? Is art merely imitating life or is art now corrupting life? Do we live in an “R” rated world? Perhaps the proper question is an unusual one. Do we feel these films? Are we not like actors on red carpet who walk playfully in and out of a world filled with vulgar images? Vulgarity in our world is so common that we can no longer feel it. In our newspaper are stories of murder and birth, divorce and engagement, molestation and education, disease and athletic accomplishment, car wrecks and coupons – and it all fits together so well, like oil on canvas. This is the image of our world. Today someone will go to the mall and buy shoes, someone will enter a dark room and inject heroine into a vein, someone will eat bar-b-q, and someone will pay a woman to spend an hour with them in a hotel while their wife is at home feeding their children.
We walk the red carpet. Look beautiful. Continue to believe life is imitation film. Perception is reality. What is that you are wearing and who is the designer?
The description of us in Romans 3 is poignant, “their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” No one wants to be a viper, it is difficult to agree with this description when it is your soul that is involved . . . but neither does the asp taste its own poison. Death resides in the mouth of a viper. Everything he eats he swallows whole. His throat is an open grave. Whatever he eats is laced with his own poison.
We cannot taste our poison.
Our television shows, movies, books, words, thoughts – the images of our culture are laced with our poison, we swallow them whole, a rated “R” world. We have grown as accustomed to the images of our world as the Romans were to three men dying on a hill called “The Skull.” Death and brutality were common. It felt natural. The winner gets the cloth. Let’s play.
“They know not what they do.”
Ultimately it was rebellion. They posted a plaque that declared Jesus was a king, but they killed him because he said he was God. Nietzsche said that God was dead. He believed with the execution of God that man would move away from the supernatural and concentrate on the actual. Without the trappings of God man could fulfill his ultimate potential, redefine himself.
It was the same issue in the garden. Cast off the restraint of God and man would be able to create his own definition of morality. The forbidden fruit represented potential, man becoming as God. Legalize sin and it is no longer sin. Yet, when a doctor inserts forceps into the skull of a half born baby we prove we are not capable of handling moral autonomy. Just because abortion is legal does that make it any less of a holocaust? Some things the conscience cannot legalize. Guilt is not a judicial decision; it is a prison for the heart.
We do not know what we are doing, yet we are not ignorant. Something has gone horribly wrong, we can feel it. We cannot kiss and kill the conscience. How can we become what we have proven we are not . . . clean?
“Father, forgive them . . .”
(To be continued)
[i] I first mentioned the concept of “second sleep” in my entry, “Interpretations of Jesus.” Since I first mentioned it people have become so interested in the subject I may need to develop a manual, or at least a Wikipedia article. [ii] Richard John Neuhaus, Death on Friday Afternoon [iii] Chuck Colson, How Shall We Now Live
Something has gone horribly wrong. We stand in the world like a child who has just broken the cookie jar. We may not be sure what is about to happen, but we know it is bad. Jesus’ first statement from the cross was, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Were the people crucifying Jesus truly ignorant of their actions, or was Jesus simply naïve?
If the gospel is personified in a moment it is this one; the bloodied Son interceding with the Father on behalf of sinners.