Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.Luke 23:34
One of the main reasons that Yeshua’s teachings have been so influential in the centuries and millennia is not just because of the wisdom, logic, and truth of what he taught, but because he actually demonstrated how to apply what he implored others to do.
As was the case in the instance of his crucifixion at the hands of his oppressors, he didn’t just preach forgiveness of enemies, he actually lived it out, praying for God to forgive those who had no intent toward him except extreme harm.
A message can have impact because it makes sense, or because it is an accepted tradition, or it may be a requirement of an institution or governing authority. However, the most impactful messages are those that are conveyed with consistency and authenticity by those who are presenting them.
By contrast, in our culture today, the opposite happens so frequently that there is the ironic statement expressed by the saying, ” Do what I say, not what I do.” This is the epitome of sad weakness in which one may have an understanding of what the right thing may be in a given situation, but they not have the strength or fortitude to carry out even their own advice. Hypocrisy is powerless.
But wisdom with consistent action makes a difference, especially with hard teachings like those about forgiveness. Anyone can say people should be forgiving of those who are intent on harm, but to do so in the most extreme of circumstances demonstrates authenticity that has power to change lives.
This is corroborated in the lives of his disciples, most visibly in the noble act of Stephen, when he faced the same type of hostility of those who would see him dead for his speaking of the truth.
Being called before the court to defend his beliefs, Stephen provides a protracted description of God’s favor with Israel, and then accuses the religious leaders of his day of forsaking everything they should have been practicing. In boldly speaking this truth, the situation then proceeded toward its inevitable conclusion.
[Stephen said,] “You received the law under the direction of angels and yet have not kept it.” … When they heard these things, they were enraged and gnashed their teeth at him. … They yelled at the top of their voices, covered their ears, and together rushed against him. They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. … He knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them! ” And after saying this, he died.Acts 7:53-54, 57-58, 60
Stephen was so captivated with the powerful example of his Lord in forgiving his enemies that, thrust into a similar circumstance, he responded in the same way. His actions were consistent with his recognition of the truth related by his Master, and he was able to respond with the same level of demonstrable conviction. His righteous actions were so powerful they still influence and challenge us to this day.
Based on these demonstrations of genuine forgiveness of enemies by both Yeshua and Stephen, can we somehow find it within ourselves to forgive others with this same level of authenticity, even though we may not be faced with the extreme condition of impending death?
If this is the ultimate level of authenticity demanded of every disciple of Yeshua, then forgiving those who have wronged us in some minor detail seems much less daunting. In so doing, we have an opportunity to provide an authentic response that can influence others to do the same.