Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:34 (WEB)
Age 47; loved by family, friends, patients, and colleagues; gunned down in her office parking lot. As I read the tributes to this doctor, comments from two people stood out in stark contrast to the dozens of comments from others. These two people both expressed a strong desire for revenge against the killer.
Tragic, premature, untimely. These are words we often use to describe the violent death of someone we would also describe as a “good person” and “so young”. Such words could be applied to Jesus Christ. Age 33, loved by family, friends, disciples, the poor, the lame, the deaf, and the blind. Yet, some did not love him; some hated him so much they conspired to kill him.
As Jesus hung on the Cross, after hours of beatings, he looked down at those for whom he was dying. Did he call out for revenge? Did he say, “Father, humiliate them, torture them, and kill them for what they have done to me”? No! Jesus looked at them and said, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”
“Forgive them.” Two simple words to say, but so difficult to put into practice.
We all struggle to forgive when someone we love dies what we call a tragic and premature death, but we can forgive. How? As we reflect on Jesus’ last words and as we seek to follow him, allowing his Holy Spirit to transform us into the people Jesus’ death and resurrection allow us to be. Jesus calls us to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us.
Perhaps the first step toward forgiving others is to recognize the potential for evil within each of us. If there were no spiritual consequences and no legal consequences for our actions, would we be the “nice” people we are today? It was a bitter pill to swallow the day I realized that the “old” me would have been capable of doing whatever it took to get what I wanted. That was the day I began to see others differently. I began to understand that people we call evil are that way because they have not yet become the new creations Jesus Christ calls us to be. They represent what I could have become had Jesus not washed away my sins and given me a fresh start with the Holy Spirit to guide me.
God will get vengeance in his own way and in his own time against all those who violate his commands. The State will get its vengeance against this doctor's killer in its own time and in its own way.
It is not our job to get revenge against any murderer. Our job is to obey the great commission Jesus gave to all his disciples to preach the Gospel to all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them to observe all his commands. “All nations” includes our own country and the jails and prisons in our own state. Are we doing what Jesus told us to do, or are we leaving that to the “paid professionals”? If so, it is no wonder the crime rate has skyrocketed during the past few decades.
The real revenge to be had is against Satan, the real perpetrator of all crimes. The ultimate revenge against Satan is on God’s agenda. In the meantime, we get a little revenge every time we tell another person about Jesus Christ, and how he has forgiven us and changed us; every time we demonstrate God’s love by giving a meal to a hungry person who has no money with which to repay us; every time we help an unemployed person get a job; every time we give shelter to a homeless person; and every time we listen to a lonely person. Every time we do what we know God wants us to do, we tell Satan that he is wrong and God is right, that he is a liar and God is truth, and that he is evil and God is love.
O Lord, our God, how awesome you are! We ask you to comfort the families and friends of all those who mourn the death of a loved one, whose life was ended by a violent action. Remind them, Father, that you are in control of the universe, and you will bring good from this difficult situation. Help us to follow Jesus Christ and obey his command to preach the Gospel to all the nations. We know can’t all physically go, but we can become spiritual and financial partners with others to make it possible for them to go. Please help us, God, to play whatever role you want us to play in preaching the Gospel to all nations, including our own. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.