Jesus asks of his Father. He says, “Father forgive them” Can you imagine what needed to be forgiven? The night before, Jesus was betrayed by one of his own, arrested, and then tried illegally six times under cover of darkness. In the morning, the Roman soldiers whipped him to an inch of his life with pieces of pottery and bone that cut into the flesh. They forced a crown of thorns down on his scalp, and made him carry a heavy cross beam out the city gates to a place called Golgotha or Calvary, the “Place of the Skull.” After his human strength gave out, the soldiers drafted an innocent bystander, Simon, to assist.
Luke 23:34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided his clothes and cast lots.
At Calvary, the soldiers him nailed hand and foot to a cross. A person being crucified died slowly from asphyxiation. It could take hours or even days, unless the Romans broke your leg bones first, so that you could no longer support yourself to take a breath. The Romans had perfected the ultimate torture machine, and they killed thousands of people with it.
You would think that Jesus, facing all this pain and agony, would cry out in despair. You would think he would be angry. But no, his first words were a prayer of forgiveness. When Jesus could have been totally self-centered, he chose to be totally other-centered, and to ask his Father to forgive THEM. Who was “them?”
Most obvious would be the Roman soldiers who put him through the scourging, the mockery, the torture, the cross. Even as He was praying for them, they gambled callously for His clothing. Or was he talking about the Jewish religious leaders, the ones who paid Judas thirty pieces of silver to betray his rabbi in a private setting, who had arranged this whole deal and somehow convinced the Romans to go through with it? Perhaps it was them Jesus had in mind.
It could have been Pilate or Herold, those weak Roman political leaders who found themselves manipulated to save their own political skins. Maybe it was the crowd that had turned so fickle after welcoming Jesus as the Messiah only five days before. Maybe Jesus was asking the Father to forgive them. Or maybe it was us. If we believe that the cross was to purchase the forgiveness of all of our sins, then Jesus was asking God that day to forgive US as well.
There is plenty of blame to go around, and every one of these groups of people deserved it. All were complicit to some degree in Jesus’ death.