“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” / Baptism
Today we celebrate Palm Sunday, the day that Jesus made his triumphal entrance into Jerusalem. He enters as a Blessed King amidst rejoicing and praise from the multitudes, yet, as He very well knew, this sentiment would quickly change. Today is also called Passion Sunday because our Gospel reading for today’s liturgy is the Lord’s Passion. The week begins with rejoicing and ends with sorrow. However, this sorrow brings us great hope as we see in today’s Gospel.
After a short, eventful week in Jerusalem, Jesus is sentenced to death for blasphemy by Pilate through the bidding of the Sanhedrin. He, along with two others, are paraded through the streets of Jerusalem up to the place of death, The Skull. The three are crucified and raised up as an example for all to see. It is from here that Jesus begins his final sermon to the people and prayer to the Father.
“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). Jesus begins His sermon from the cross in this way by showing mercy to His crucifiers. On the brink of the end of His life, Jesus asks the Father to grant these people a new beginning through forgiveness. Jesus requests this “for they know not what they do.” It is due to their ignorance.
But these men knew exactly what they were doing! They were torturing another man and putting him to death. How can they be ignorant of that? Jesus knows that these men are not ignorant of what they are doing, but rather who they are doing it to. They had never had the opportunity to come to know who they were crucifying and what he came to offer them. They were ignorant of who Jesus was until after his death when one remarked, “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Lk 23:47).
The forgiveness granted by the Father through the death and intercession of His Son cleared the eyes of the centurion to confess, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Mt 27:54). The centurion’s confession sounds awfully similar to Peter’s at Caesare’a Philip’pi in Matthew 16. Jesus tells Peter that the Father has revealed this to him. This is an act of grace. We can make the connection that the centurion was able to confess Jesus’s identity through the grace of the Father. The centurion was once ignorant, but now has his sight. He has received new grace from the Father and he now knows who he has crucified.
Jesus’s first words from the cross, however, are not limited to the group of centurions. They extend to all of us through all of time. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” We were all born into ignorance and original sin which makes us just like the centurion in our ignorance of Jesus and responsibility for His death. We are not culpable for our ignorance nor original sin however, God must cleanse us of these things through grace.
The Father recognizes this ignorance and wants us to return home to Him through the sacrifice of His Son. He gives us the sacrament of Baptism to cleanse us from our original sin and give us the opportunity to come to know the man whom we crucified, Jesus. Through the death of Jesus, God gives us a new life in the sacrament of Baptism. “Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God” (CCC 1213). Without Baptism, we are destined to ignorance of Christ and death. But with Baptism, we are given an opportunity to reunite with our heavenly Father by coming to know our Lord Jesus Christ. At every Baptism we should hear the words of Jesus from the cross and see his divine mercy washing us clean. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”