Summary: Message on the First Word from the Cross, for a Good Friday Seven Last Words service. Jesus prays for forgiveness for the anonymous "they" who permit a society to be valueless, for those who profit from the misery of others, for those who pride themselve
One of life’s scariest moments comes when, two or three days after you have taken an exam at school, the teacher shows up ready to pass out the results. Maybe you sit poised on the edge of your chair, if you think you’ve done well; or you slump down in the seat, trying to look as though you’re not there if you suspect you did badly. And in a few moments, the verdict – pass or fail, Grade A or Grade Z, the day of judgment.
One of my old English professors used to introduce that moment, just before he handed out the test results, by asking the class a rhetorical question. Mr. Walker would always ask us, “Which counts off more in my class, ignorant errors or careless mistakes?” And without waiting for our reply, he would shake a bony finger at us and answer his own question, “Which counts off more, ignorant errors or careless mistakes? They count off the same!” If it’s wrong, it’s wrong, and it doesn’t matter how you got it wrong. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong, whether it be an ignorant error – because you didn’t know what you were doing – or a careless mistake – because you did know what you were supposed to do, but messed up. Either way, you are just as wrong, just as guilty, just as marked down.
I used to drive 16th St. every day to work in a position I once held. You may have noticed that at some of the intersections along 16th St., the traffic lights are obscured by overgrown branches. If you don’t know where the lights are, it’s easy to miss them and to run a red light. The first few times I drove that street, I ran a few red lights. That was an ignorant error. But after I got used to the street, I noticed that there was almost never any traffic at some of those intersections. That made it easy for me to – well, roll forward – instead of stopping. I guess you could call that a careless mistake. Either way, however, it was illegal! Either way, it was wrong.
The night before they had gathered around a table in an upper room somewhere in the city, and Jesus had spoken of betrayal. Someone, He had said, would betray Him into the hands of those who would put Him to death. All of them, one by one, had wondered, “Is it I, Lord? Is it I?” As if to say that they did know, didn’t they, that down deep inside each one of them had the capacity to go so far astray? Would it be an ignorant error, or would it be a careless mistake? Or would it be something else that might drive them to betray?
And then all of them had gone to the Garden, in the place for which this very church is named, Gethsemane. Some had followed at a distance, but a few had come up close. A few had been invited into their Master’s heart, to witness His struggle in prayer. But – what happened? Were they tired? Were they bored? Was it an ignorant error? Or was it a careless mistake? They went to sleep. They failed the test. Simple friendship ought to have kept them alert, but it did not. Ignorant error? Careless mistake? Or something else?
And then a whirlwind of activity. A torrent of passions run wild. A trial before the priests, a scourging and a mocking at the Roman governor’s palace. A long, hard pull through the streets of city, carrying the instrument of execution. And now this. This! This terrible moment, this awesome time, the Cross. He is hung there, flung high and wild against an Eastern sky, left to the elements, consigned to the jackals. To die. To die.
And from His lips the first of His words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
They know not? Or maybe they do? Was it an ignorant error that they put Jesus on that cross? Or was it a careless mistake? Both count the same. He is just as dead, either way? Or was it something else?
Look with me at those who participated in this thing. Those whom Jesus forgave. Did they make ignorant errors, or blunder into careless mistakes, or was it something else?
First, there is the anonymous “they”. They crucified him. They. No names, no ranks, no serial numbers. Just they. Oh, friends, let’s not get caught up in the issues brought up by the film, “The Passion of the Christ.” Let’s not fall into the trap of finger pointing, saying “The Jews” killed him, or the Romans did it, or Pilate, or Judas. It was “they”. It was the crowd. It was the system. It was the way things were. The world has not changed much. So many things happen, and for them we try to assign blame. Lead in the pipes? They should have known better. Terrorism threats? They should have prepared for it. Unemployment? They should provide jobs. Racism? “The man” is to blame. They, they, they. Got to blame someone. But the truth is that all of us get caught up evil systems. All of us get trapped in a world that has lost its way. All of us are part of the anonymous “they”, and “they” – no, we – are responsible for the death of Christ. A human race that has a bent toward sinning has done this. A system that values power over truth has done this. A society that cherishes the status quo over change has done this. We all have done this. “They”. Ignorant errors? Yes, maybe. Careless mistakes? To some degree. But something more. Something more.