Every week we get the Kleenex ready, put Hulu on our screen, and watch the latest episode of This is Us. I admit I’m usually the one who has a tear form first. I don’t even try to hide it. You can revoke my “man card” if you want. I’m one of those that gets into a well-written story. In this case, it’s like I’m somewhere in the room with these people as we walk with them through life.
You can only imagine the blubber fest when Randall is at his biological father’s hospital bed knowing it is his father’s final moments. Randall’s Bible is open. Already he’s lost a lifetime with this man. Now, after getting to know him in a rushed kind of way, he is about to lose him.
William took the oxygen mask off his face and began to speak. He gave Randall a collection of poems he had written for him. The aged cover page read, “Poems for my Son” by William Hill. Randall says he can get his wife and daughters to the hospital in a matter of hours but William responds: “I said goodbye when they were laying down. I want them to remember looking up at me, not down. Up.”
Then he repeats advice he had given him earlier. “Roll all your windows down Randall. Crank up the music.” His dying words were ones his son could live by. [you can see a clip of this scene here]
Last moments are holy ones. You may have experienced some in your life. Truth is, someday we will be the ones uttering final words. Can you imagine what will they be? It seems as if our last words are words that reflect what our life was about.
At least that is true for Jesus. What he says in his dying words we see reflected in his life. The first words uttered from the cross were these: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). He had preached forgiveness from the start of his ministry. “Pray then like this…forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
But his final pulpit was his most powerful. On the cross he could ask for forgiveness because forgiveness was part of his being. Listen carefully to his words.
“Father.” The Greek word is “pater” but Jesus would have uttered an Aramaic word, “Abba.” It was a first word learned by young Jewish children, like our children learning to say “dada” or “mama.” But it was not just a word for young children. By Jesus’ day it was used by adult children to speak of their fathers. It was a term of intimacy and security and simplicity.
It was common to refer to your father in this way, but it was not common to refer to God with this word. And yet, Jesus did. There are seventeen unique prayers of Jesus in the Gospels and each one begins with “Father,” “Abba.” Jesus had a special relationship with God.
Because he had a special relationship he could ask his Father to act. He asks his Father to “forgive them.” The Greek word “aphiemi” can mean to “let go/send away” as with crowds. But here the meaning has the sense of “pardon” or “forgive.”
Jesus is able to ask for forgiveness of those who have wronged him because he sees them differently. “…for they don’t know what they are doing.”
And neither do we. And neither do the ones who wrong us. These dying words of Jesus are words to live by. He forgave us and expects his followers to learn to forgive others. In Matthew 18 he tells a story of a man who was forgiven much but turns around and refuses to forgive someone who owes him little. The point of his story? You will forgive in direct proportion to the amount of forgiveness you understood you have received.
So how do we become people who forgive?
- We listen intently and let Jesus’ words become part of us.
- We begin to see people as he did, people who don’t know what they are doing.
- And we do as he did, we ask the Father to forgive them.
And when we can’t, we at least learn to “desire to have the desire” to forgive. James Martin writes: “…wanting [to forgive] is a good start, because true forgiveness is a gift from God. It’s a grace. Moreover, to paraphrase St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order, even if you don’t have the desire to forgive, if you have the desire for the desire, that’s enough. God can work with that.”
Jesus wants us to remember looking up at him. On the cross. Forgiveness frees us and the other person to roll down the windows and crank up the music.
Question: What do you want your final words to be? Will they be life-giving words?