Summary: This short talk uses a story I wrote for a school assembly (ages 8 to 16) to help people think about this prayer of Jesus from the cross
Many years ago, long before any of us were born, and long before our great grandparents were born, a young man walked into town. His clothes were old and well worn. His shoes had holes, and he carried all of his possessions in a small, dirty bag. When he first arrived in town he slept under an apple tree and the residents of the town quickly got to know him because he was always asking if he could do jobs for people.
“I can do anything that needs to be done; and I promise I will never ask for payment”, said the scruffy young man.
Some were suspicious of him, and some told him to get lost, but slowly and surely more and more people trusted him, and the quality of his work was superb. He could paint, do the garden, fix broken furniture, run errands and entertain children. He was a great shoe shiner, a Blacksmith, and a builder.
Some people paid him by giving him a meal. Some gave him water to drink. Some gave him money; but there were many people who took advantage of him. They asked him to do enormous jobs that lasted all day and then gave him nothing; but the young man never complained. He had said he would work for nothing, and so at the end of a hard day’s work, he would leave with a cheerful smile on his face – even more cheerful than the smile that greeted the people of the town every morning.
As time went by stories of the man passed from house to house and to other towns; and more and more people realised that they didn’t have to give the young man anything for his efforts, so he began to receive less food, and less water; but still he worked hard, smiled with an infectious smile, and slept under the apple tree.
One day there was no work. The man was hungry and thirsty.
There was no work because it was the King’s birthday! It was a national holiday. Everyone was dressed up in their finest clothes because the king was coming to town. Music was playing. Laughter filled the air. Children couldn’t wait to get their first glimpse of the king. The young man’s smile was broader than ever, but the people of the town told him to keep his distance because his clothes looked out of place for such a grand occasion. In fact they tied him to his apple tree so that he would not spoil the day.
When the King’s carriage pulled into town there was a fanfare to greet him, and applause as he waved to the crowd, but they were surprised to hear that he knew about the scruffy man who had been working hard in the town recently.
“Where is the hard working young man? Where is the man who works for nothing?”
Very embarrassed, they took the King to the apple tree where they found the young man, exhausted, tired, hungry and thirsty.
“What have you done to him?” demanded the King. “I sent him to come and work amongst you, and you have done this to him!”
There was silence amongst the people of the town.
The young man smiled lovingly, and looking into the eyes of the King he said, “Father. Forgive them. They don’t realise I am your son.”
The shocked crowd fell to their knees in sorrow, as they realised what they had done.
(Story by Warner Pidgeon – March 2009)
Shortly before his death on the cross – the Roman method of execution, Jesus prayed, “Forgive them, Father! They don’t know what they are doing” (23:34).
A few days earlier a crowd of people had accompanied and welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem. He was riding on a donkey and people were praising him, and shouting, “Hosanna! God bless the King who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 19:37-38). I guess it was a bit like our Christmas celebrations!
For many people in the lead up to Christmas there is excitement, and the birth of Jesus – welcoming Jesus the King – is on the lips of many people. After the joyful celebrations of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem it didn’t take long for the decorations to come down. The religious leaders plotted to get rid of Jesus and they soon had their way. With no genuine evidence he was handed over to be crucified.
Abused and rejected – Jesus was crucified; and during his last moments he prayed, “Forgive them, Father! They don’t know what they are doing”. With typical and wonderful love Jesus prayed for those who had rejected him and tied him to a cross made from the branches of a tree.
For me as a Christian Easter is a time to recognise Jesus once again for who he really is; to receive his forgiveness for rejecting him; and also to forgive the people who may have treated me badly.
I hope and pray that this Easter you might recognise Jesus, and that you will be able to pray for and forgive anyone who has treated you badly.
Shall we pray together?