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Question

Dear Father,

I would like to know your opinion on Jesus’ request to forgive them because they did not know what they were doing.

Regardless of the clear message to teach us to always forgive those who hurt us, my question is exactly this: in that precise moment Jesus asked for forgiveness on behalf of the Roman soldiers that were actually nailing him or did he also refer to the High Priests who were there and had precisely and obsessively wanted to have him killed?

If through this saying Jesus asked his Father to forgive them justifying them for not being aware of what they were doing, then should I deduce that the High Priests were not aware?

I apologize as I may have been confused in my narrative but I hope to have been clear at least in the concept.

I thank you in advance for your reply.

May Jesus Christ be praised

Priest’s answer

Dear sister,

  1. The first thing I would like to point out is this: in his preaching Jesus taught in his saying “pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

Now on the cross he teaches this with deeds.

  1. And here comes my question.

Who are those on behalf of whom Jesus begs for forgiveness: the soldiers or also the ones who commanded the soldiers?

Dominican biblist Benedetto Prete writes: “Undoubtedly, we have to consider the pronoun concerned as comprehensive; indeed, the Evangelist doesn’t really think of the Roman soldiers, who factually carried out the death sentence for Jesus, but refers to the High Priests, leaders and to that part of the people who extorted the death sentence for Jesus from Pilate” (La passione e la morte di Gesù nel racconto di Luca, II, p. 67).

  1. The Dominican also adds: “At this point we have to specify the meaning of the expression:

«… because they know not what they do», which may create misunderstanding.

Obviously, these words from dying Jesus do not correspond to a declaration of innocence for those who wanted his crucifixion nor do they mean that crucifixion was a mistake.

… The Evangelist (…) points out two facts: on one hand he emphasizes guilt of the Jews of the death of Jesus and, on the other hand, he claims that the Jews crucifying the Savior know not what they do (cf. Luke 23:34; Acts 3:17; 13:27).

The two facts are not contradictory but take into consideration two different aspects of the same fact: from a historical and objective perspective of the events, the Jews made themselves guilty of Jesus’ death due to their false allegations against him and their pressure and intimidations to Pilate (cf. Luke 24:20);

From a theological perspective, the Passion and death of Jesus belong to the mysterious plan for salvation wanted by God and not understood by men;in this regard you can assert truly that all the ones who wanted the passion and the death of Jesus did not understand what they did” (Ibid., pages 67-68).

  1. He continues: “We insist on this double perspective from Luke; on one hand he historically considers the Jews guilty of Jesus’ death; on the other hand he claims their ignorance of the divine plan for salvation that implied the Passion and death of Jesus, which however remained concealed from them like it remained concealed from the Apostles themselves (cf. Luke 18:34; 24, 25-27). Indeed, when the Evangelist talks about the Jews’ ignorance with regard to the death sentence for Jesus (cf. Acts 3:17; 13:27), he also claims that through this death it was carried out what had been foretold by the prophets (cf. Acts 3:18; 13:29)” (Ibid., p. 68).
  2. All that Father Benedetto Prete says is true.

However, we have to specify that the real instigators of the Highest Priests and rulers of the people is us with our sins.

We are those who don’t know what they do through their sins.

Indeed, we carry on crucifying the Lord, as the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us: “they are recrucifying the Son of God for themselves and holding him up to contempt” (Hebrews 6:6).

  1. For this reason, B. Prete properly points out: “Yet you have to be more precise; the pronoun has to be referred to all sinners; as a matter of fact, some of Luke’s expressions lead towards this interpretation. The Evangelist labels Jesus’ persecutors as “sinners” (Luke 24:7) or name them “lawless men” (Acts 2:23); moreover, the two men who were crucified along with Jesus are called criminals (Luke 23:33); so Jesus intends to pray for all those who are sinners, lawbreakers and wrongdoers ensuring them God’s forgiveness (Ibid., page 69).
  1. Provided that they repent though.

Indeed, San Giovanni Crisostomo writes: “Now he says: forgive, if they repent. Indeed, he is favorable to those who repent, if they are willing to wash away their sins through faith after a lot of wickedness”.

Here’s a common interpretation in the Middle Ages: “With regard to those who remain incredulous after the crucifixion, nobody should think that they will be pardoned for their ignorance, due to the very clear signs and miracles announcing he was God”.

I wish you well, and assuring you of special remembrance in prayer, I bless you.

Father Angelo


Translated by Irene Visciano