Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk. 23:34, NIV)
It’s easy to read Jesus’ forgiveness in a matter-of-fact way. But what if Jesus had not forgiven? Obviously, the entire human race would be in deep trouble. But let’s put aside what the withholding of forgiveness would mean for us for a moment. Think instead, of what it would have meant for Jesus.
This is an absurd exercise, to be sure, but there is a point, so try to stick with it. Suppose for a moment that in lieu of forgiving, Jesus just decided that He would not lash back at anyone who hurt Him; He’d not say anything mean, He’d not retaliate. Wouldn’t that be good enough?
Would it be? Consider what withholding forgiveness would have done to Jesus’ heart and soul. How would it have affected His freedom? How would it have affected the way He interacted with people? Before you read any further, stop for a minute and really try to think about this.
Like us, Jesus routinely interacted with people who misunderstood and criticized Him. Unlike most of us, during His last week of life He experienced the most traumatic abuse and injustice a person can experience. Apart from forgiveness—choosing to let people off the hook—Jesus (if it were possible) might have become bitter, depressed, or self-protective. He might have lost His winsome and generous spirit that enabled Him to accept and love people unconditionally.
It’s often quoted that failing to forgive is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Jesus didn’t drink that poison. When Jesus forgave us, He gave us a priceless gift, no question about it. But He also was caring for His own soul. By truly releasing the people who hurt and disappointed Him, Jesus kept His heart innocent and pure. There was nothing inside Him to hinder Him from living in complete peace, joy, hope, and love.
Jesus gave us a good prayer on this topic: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” As you pray this prayer today, ask God to reveal any unforgiveness that may be poisoning your soul. If He reveals something, ask Him for the grace to forgive as Jesus did. Do it with His help, and for the sake of your soul.