Recently, I participated in a group reading of Luke’s account of Jesus’ death. I was struck by the change in tone and of heart of the second criminal crucified with Jesus. One moment, he was with the crowds in their hurls of abuse; the next he was questioning the justice associated with his own death and asking Jesus to remember him when Jesus came into his kingdom.
What brought about this incredible change in the criminal? I wondered if it might be simply the first word that Jesus spoke in the interim – the word ‘Father’, and the fact that in that simple address this man was given a glimpse into the deepest truth of all reality.
Perhaps like many prisoners, this man too had a lousy relationship with his earthly father. Perhaps like all of us, to hear (i.e., to really hear, and so to be overcome by the crisis that comes in that hearing) that we are forgiven even though we don’t know what we are doing cuts right through all our defenses. (So PT Forsyth: ‘The greatest, last, humanest, passion is the passion to be forgiven’). Perhaps we will never know. And perhaps that doesn’t matter. What does matter, though, is the transformation experienced in this briefest of exchanges. A wee poem attempts to capture something of this transformation:
Change of Address
The mob, by this time, was blood-crazed,
choler coupled with the shame of betraying ‘innocent blood’,
tempestuous with fury against a God way too human.
And two brigands – one on his right and one on his left –
were also there, their antisocial terror
flaring into blasphemous howls.
They joined the rest – sibilating the fruit of irrational rage:
‘If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross’. But a night in
the garden had closed that possibility.
And now, lifted up on the mob’s violent altar,
amid swells of vengeance fueled by power’s lusts
a prayer: ‘Father, forgive them …’.
Abruptly, and with all the violence of a different nature
one neighbour fell silent. His ire ended;
his soft confession birthed.
Could it be that something in that cry – ‘Father’ –
untwisted his tangled self,
broke open the truth of all things?
Where am I?© Jason A. Goroncy 17 November 2010
For all the ire it brings from some feminists, and inclusive-language people, and some who’ve been abused by their own fathers, ‘Father’ and ‘God’ are still the greatest couple of words, when placed together, in the Universe.