I live in Mexico.  The first three days of November, for Catholics, who are the overwhelming majority of people who live in Mexico, is devoted to the dead.  The celebration is called “Day of the Dead”, but in reality is three days.  The first day they remember infants who have died.  The second day is devoted to those who have died in accidents.  The third day is for all others who have died.  They believe that the dearly departed spirits return to visit their families, thus elaborate shrines are made to warmly receive and honor them.  These shrines consist of marigold flowers, sugar cane stalks, candles, and tons of food and beverages, all designed to welcome back the dead.  Naturally, the dead don’t eat or drink much, so at the end of three days the living feast on the food and drink, or donate it to homes for needy children like the one I serve at in Oaxaca,Mexico.

I too, have been thinking about the dead these last few days. Especially one person in particular.  This man was sentenced to death unfairly, and before he was executed, he was tortured mercilessly.  As he was dying, he uttered these incredible words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).”  This man was Jesus.casting lots

I have been thinking a lot about those words.  Those almost unbelievable words of compassion and mercy, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  In the midst of His unbearable pain and suffering, he found a place in His heart to forgive them, because he knew that they were acting out of ignorance.

Last week I was helping to move concrete, in a wheel barrow, from the concrete mixer to the foundation of the elementary school that we are building.  My job was to place my wheel barrow close to the mixer, so that the guy operating the mixer could fill it.  When the concrete falls into the wheel barrow, it slashes concrete all around something terrible, so I turn my back to avoid concrete splashing in my face.  On that particular day, I was wearing an old t-shirt, the back of which was more holes than fabric.  I think the guy operating the mixer, and his accomplice must have been looking at my backside with amusement and lost track of the job at hand, because the next thing I knew, concrete was spilling out of the wheel barrow and onto my pants and shoes.  Quickly the error was corrected and the guy apologized.  As I began trundling my wheel barrow towards the foundation, I thought of Christ’s words, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Jesus talked a lot about forgiveness.  Peter asked Jesus how often he needed to forgive someone who offended him or sinned against him.  Seven times?  Peter thought he was being generous.  Jesus told him 77 times in one account, and 70 times seven in another account.  What Jesus was saying was that there is no limit to the number of times we must forgive those who sin against us.  In the Lord’s prayer Jesus teaches us to pray, “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”  To be sure that we understand the concept, Jesus goes on to say, “if you don’t forgive those who sin against you, your Father in the heavens will not forgive you.”  Not a lot of wiggle room there!

Even the meaning of Jesus’ name suggests forgiveness of sin. The angel told Mary to name her baby Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins.”  In order to be saved from our sins we must be forgiven from our sins.  To be forgiven we must forgive.  When someone offends us or hurts us or sins against us, we must pray “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

When we offend others, hurt others and sin against others, we must not only ask their forgiveness, but God’s forgiveness, because all sin is ultimately against God, as David shows us in the 51st Psalm.  We pray to God “Forgive us, because we know not what we do.”

In reality we really don’t know what a horrible offense our sin is before God when we commit it.  When we hurt someone, we are really acting in ignorance because we have no true idea how much pain they suffer because of our action.  It would not be entirely out of place to say to those that we have hurt, “Forgive me, for I did not really know (in every sense of the word KNOW), what I was doing.”  Paul writes in 1 Timothy 1:13, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.”  In verse 15 he writes, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.”

What a great example of someone who caused a lot of people a lot of pain and suffering, and God looked down on him as the ignorant sinner that he was, and forgave him.  There is hope and a promise for you and me as well.

When we die we will not go back to enjoy a meal with relatives on earth, but we will stand before the Eternal Judge.  If we have forgiven those who have sinned against us, and have accepted God’s good gift of forgiveness, then we will hear those pleasant words, “Well done good and faithful servant.  Enter into the joy of your Lord.”

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We may learn from this prayer: (Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.)

1. The duty of praying for our enemies, even when they are endeavoring most to injure us.

2. The thing for which we should pray for them is that “God” would pardon them and give them better minds.

3. The power and excellence of the Christian religion. No other religion “teaches” people to pray for the forgiveness of enemies; no other “disposes” them to do it. Men of the world seek for “revenge;” the Christian bears reproaches and persecutions with patience, and prays that God would pardon those who injure them, and save them from their sins.

4. The greatest sinners, through the intercession of Jesus, may obtain pardon. God heard him, and still hears him “always,” and there is no reason to doubt that many of his enemies and murderers obtained forgiveness and life.

Barnes notes on the Bible