Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.—Luke 23:34
As Jesus’ life was slipping away on the cross, he noticed the soldiers on the ground making a mockery of the whole situation. Instead of becoming angry, bitter, or resentful, which might be our human tendency, Jesus called upon his higher power to forgive his persecutors.
Unpacking the Meaning
Let’s unpack the meaning of his utterance. The best way to interpret scripture metaphysically is to break it apart word by word in the context of the story. When equipped with the inner meanings of words and stories, we can gain a greater understanding of how they apply to our everyday experiences.
The first word, Father, refers to the all-knowing, all-powerful, everywhere present, everything God. This absolute principle is in everyone, no matter how they behave. Jesus is invoking his higher self, or spiritual identity, to help him rise above the material realm of consciousness.
The word forgive appears 127 times throughout the books of the Bible. Metaphysically (beyond the literal or physical) it means “to give up something for.” By giving up thoughts of self, Jesus was showing compassion for those who were harming him.
The lesson in this scripture is that unforgiving thoughts trap us in the past. When we let go of our selfish, egotistical thoughts and ideas, we make room to experience greater peace, love, and joy.
Taken together, the last words, for they do not know what they are doing, indicates Jesus had a level of spiritual understanding that far surpassed the intellect. He understood all people are made in the image and likeness of God, even if they do not realize it.
Giving up the False for the True
The Revealing Word defines forgiveness as “giving up the false for the true.” Jesus’ words indicated these individuals were operating at a different level of reality. Knowing the truth made it easier for him to let go of the human tendency toward hate or anger. The point here is that Jesus understood a greater Truth, whereas those for whom he prayed to be forgiven knew only their personal truth.
Many years ago, I had the opportunity to hear a Bible scholar speak about the metaphysical interpretation of John 8:32, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” He explained the difference between knowing and understanding. Knowing comes from our limited perspective—what we’ve been taught or otherwise learned from others. Understanding, on the other hand, comes by way of experience. Another scripture that relates to this is Proverbs 4:7. “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever else you get, get insight.”
The message Jesus conveyed is that those who were making light of the situation didn’t know any better. They had been taught and ascribed to a certain belief system, and their actions supported their beliefs. Had the soldiers mocking Jesus truly understood what was happening, they might have acted from a higher state of consciousness. In that case, the story might have ended differently.
In the American court system today, a person accused of a crime who is found to be mentally unstable may not suffer the same punishment as someone who appears to have all of their mental faculties. Jesus was implying these individuals were innocent because they were behaving the only way they knew how.
Making Better Choices
When we know better, we can make the choice to do better. Then we can be free from the nagging pangs of guilt, shame, regret, resentment, blame, and every emotion that keeps us stuck in the past.
The lesson in this scripture is that unforgiving thoughts trap us in the past. When we let go of our selfish, egotistical thoughts and ideas, we make room to experience greater peace, love, and joy. True knowing goes beyond the intellect. It is through experience that we gain spiritual understanding.
When we feel hurt by someone else’s actions, we need only remind ourselves of the words Jesus spoke from the cross: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”