Luke reports these words, spoken by Jesus as He hung on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34 ESV)
From the time I was little, the Church taught me that these words of Jesus were a request to the Father on behalf of the men who were crucifying Him. Sometimes, the teachings suggested the words of forgiveness extended to a broader circle of actors: to the thieves hanging with Him, to the Jewish leaders who sought His death, to Pilate, to the soldiers who mocked Him, even to those in the crowd who had shouted for His crucifixion and had chosen Barabbas for release. Jesus was asking the Father to forgive those involved in the crucifixion event.
Was Jesus doing even more?
He knew that the cross was necessary because of the sins of every human being who had ever lived or would ever live. He and the Father had intentioned from the beginning of time this sacrifice of Self to rescue and redeem humanity. Jesus knew, but we did not, the price that He would pay for broken human choices.
Perhaps these words of Jesus, spoken with His dying breath, were spoken to the Father for ALL of us. . .for every soul in the span of human history. . .not just for the immediate actors.
Perhaps these words were the essence of the spiritual transaction reflected in the Cross: His death given as payment for our forgiveness.
My heart reads these words of Jesus not as a request but as a declaration. . .even a demand. “Father, forgive them.” The transaction was accomplished. Jesus documented it for all of us, as He spoke his final words in death: “It is finished.”
In these transactional words of the dying Christ, the incomparable, incomprehensible love of the Creator for His Creation spills out: He reminds the Father that we did not know the heavy, heavy price He would pay for our rejection of God. Grace and love extended, even at the very end.
This, for me, is what Good Friday is about.