“Forgive them, they know not what they do”
In Father Hanly’s outstanding homily for 5th Sunday of Easter, Year C, he talks about the glory of God and forgiveness.
Readings for Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C
- First Reading: Acts 14:21-27
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 145:8-9, 10-11, 12-13
- Second Reading: Revelation 21:1-5
- Gospel: John 13:31-33, 34-35
A very short gospel. I could stand up here for a whole week and talk about it.
This is the sum and substance, the reason why he came, the reason why he died, the reason why he rose and the reason why you are all sitting here this morning.
It is because he has come to show us God’s glory.
That word “show glory” and “glorify” and all of that, the real meaning isn’t a kind of a prideful superiority over everybody.
The meaning of glory, and it’s used in the Old Testament, means it is the manifestation of the inner truth of the human being when we say, “We saw his glory.”
In fact “we saw his glory” is used quite commonly and it’s the same meaning.
For instance, if an athlete, after years of ordeal and working hard and faithful to what he has to do, and he runs the race and he comes in first in the Olympics and everyone says, “We saw his glory,” what they mean was, it is the inner strength of this man, in his discipline, in his wisdom, in whatever it is that drives him forward, is now manifested and he’s not just somebody who sits around talking or having pizzas or stuff.
Because the real man is not just that friend or that person, the real man is the one who manifests at that moment a singular inner being that nobody knew really existed in him.
I say this because the next thing Jesus says is…
When we talk about the glory of God it means that God is going to reveal Himself, you see. He’s going to reveal Himself and you’re going to find out who the God hidden from centuries really is.
And Jesus is going to be the instrument of that.
And how does he frame it?
You forgot the first sentence: “When Judas Iscariot had left them.”
We’re at the Last Supper and when Judas Iscariot leaves him, he is going to go to the Sanhedrin, the leaders, and he will say to them, “I will hand him over to you.” And then the ordeal will begin, for he will walk out into that garden, he will sweat blood, he will be full of fear.
Finally he will say to his Father, “Take this away from me, but not as I will but as you will.” And the soldiers arrest him and drag him before and put him on trial and the next day they crucify him.
This, Jesus is saying, is the beginning of his glory.
This is his glory: nailed to a cross, everybody screaming at him, a total failure, everything that he believed in is challenged, everything he loved has deserted him and, on the cross, he looks down and he opens his arms and he says, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
And what is the glory?
The glory is that God weeps, God cries, God feels the pain of humanity and, driven to the very end of that pain and suffering, he looks down and says, “It’s all about love.” He is saying, “Father, I love these people, you have to forgive them.”
And Peguy, the French poet, says, “From that day on, the two arms of God, one for justice and one for mercy, Jesus ties one arm behind his Father and says, ‘From now on not justice, only mercy, only love.’”
And now we have seen his glory. We have seen the glory of God on a cross before the whole world.
God so loved the world He gave His only Son into our hands.
And out of Jesus giving himself, his own life, out of that love, he heals us, saves us, gives us once again what we were born with: the glory that God gives to each and every human being.
And then he says, “I have just a little time to be with you and you must understand, you must learn to love and you must love each other in the same way that I have loved you.”
And it is God who has made each and every one of us capable, not of human love, which is so easily lost and battered, capable of bearing the love of God as instruments of God.
And this is the new thing, that God now marches, not above in Heaven, but He is with us always.
And the love we show to each other is not our love, it’s God’s love. And the forgiveness we give each other is not our forgiveness, it’s God’s forgiveness. And the caring for each other is also God’s caring for each and every one of us.
And so, in the end, on Calvary’s top, Jesus dies. But the death is not that important. It is the measure of God’s love and of the love of Jesus. And it is measured by total, complete, unconditional sacrifice of his life that we might all understand who we are and how valuable we are.
And it’s not because we do great things and people will say, “See his glory on the athletic field or in some other activity.”
We are revealed for the first time, our true value, we are worth the death of the Messiah, the Son of God, and God Himself has given us this great gift.
So, today, when we say we must love one another, it means he knows that we will fail again and again.
After all, the men in front of him when he said, “You will see my glory,” where were they?
They ran away. It’s only later that they saw it with their hearts and, when they saw his glory, who he was and what he was giving us, his own love, that he would become our way, he would become our truth and he would become our life.
So, whenever you think of how hard it is to forgive, don’t think yes how hard it is for me to forgive, because all of us, it’s a great weakness. The hardest thing in life is to forgive somebody.
And yet think, think just for one moment, you’re not asked to forgive with your forgiveness. You and Christ together are each to share the Father’s forgiveness for all humanity.
And look again at that person you cannot forgive. Because you have not seen that he, too, is God’s glory. For God does not make garbage. He doesn’t fool around with life. Each one of us has an eternal destiny and an eternal goodness.
And you sit in front of whoever that person is and you write on a piece of paper a little list. The first thing you put down is everything you’re ashamed of in your life, everything that you yourself have failed in love.
And then you turn to this person and say, “Can I not forgive him the way God forgives me, with a generosity of forgiveness, or must I insist, me refusing to give him my little forgiveness, when God himself has died for him and has died for me and forgives us all?”
At the end of the Easter season let us think of these things. It’s the only response to evil. It’s the only response to the poor showing of this world to its selfishness, to its demands, to its arrogance.
The only, only response to that is Jesus on the cross saying, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
And he asks us to be part of that gesture when we turn to each other, and see and see and see until you can understand why Jesus would die for that person.
And I’m sure you would agree that it is in forgiving him that we take the first step to healing ourselves and healing our lives and, ultimately, as a people, with forgiveness for all, we can heal the world.