Luke 23:p 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left.q 34 [Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”]* They divided his garments by casting lots.r 35 The people stood by and watched; the rulers, meanwhile, sneered at him and said,s “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Messiah of God.”t 36 Even the soldiers jeered at him.
The Painting – (1) It seems out of sequence for us to begin these Lenten Meditations with an image of the Crucifixion. Yet notice how the artist paints Jesus, our crucified Lord, as become completely fire – Malachi 3:2 – “But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand firm when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire, like fuller’s lye.” And fire is the maker of ashes. And ashes are the entry-sign of Lent – on Ash Wednesday. We misinterpret the ashes of Ash Wednesday if we fail to connect them to the fire that produced them. (2) The image of Jesus, the Christ, completely of fire … yet still very much there (i.e., not reduced to ashes) evokes the memory of the epiphany of God to Moses at the burning bush – Exodus 3: 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him as fire flaming out of a bush. When he looked, although the bush was on fire, it was not being consumed. (3) The artist paints the Crucifixion as a prayer of Jesus that the Father has now finally answered – Luke 12:49-50: 49 “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! 50 *There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!u
It should come as no surprise that this famous verse, Luke 23:34, is contested, with interpreters arguing either that the verse belongs in Luke’s Gospel or that it does not.
Whatever may be the legitimate textual questions concerning this verse, the heart of the contested nature of this verse must concern what that verse states as the truth: that Jesus forgave His enemies, and that He did so right at the point of His greatest humiliation and violence at their hands! These were not people in general (a safer abstraction), but these very people around Him, there, in Jerusalem – they who were actively destroying Him.
How could anyone, even a divine Someone, forgive them? We wonder how anyone could do such a thing. We also question whether a victim, or that Victim, should forgive especially those who “sneered” (v 35) and “jeered” (v 36) as they “watched” approvingly His gruesome murder.
In other words, it is possible for us today to have so romanticized the sacrifice of Jesus, made easier for us to do so by theologies that either mechanize this “work” of redemption,, or abstract it into an Idea of redemption, or neutralize (because emotionally unbearable) the sheer ghastliness of Jesus’ forgiveness of His enemies, that we miss the exceptional shock Luke intends to administer at verse 34 to all who hear this story.
Could it be that the truth in Luke 23:34 – the forgiveness of one’s enemy – lies at the very center of Luke’s understanding of what God meant in Christ – the luminous meaning burning at the core of what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God?
And could it be that the historical questioning about its inclusion, or not, in this Gospel is not merely to do with ancient manuscripts, but also to do with the profound revulsion people feel that Jesus forgave, even there, that day, forgive those people “sneering” and “jeering” at Him Who was slowly bleeding out and suffocating to death?
But then there is this.
Luke records in his sixth chapter how Jesus made a specific point of teaching His disciples:
Luke 6: 32 For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same.
Luke 6: 35 But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.w 36 Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful. 
Suddenly this first of the “last words” of Jesus directs our attention in quite a different direction from where our feelings of revulsion have led us. In light of what Jesus teaches in Luke, chapter 6, we are compelled instead to consider the integrity of Jesus, luminous and strong, who demonstrates from the Cross that what He taught is what He meant, and what He meant is what He lived. Jesus is a doer of the Word, this is the point.
James 1: 22 Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.m 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his own face in a mirror. 24 He sees himself, then goes off and promptly forgets what he looked like. 25 But the one who peers into the perfect law* of freedom and perseveres, and is not a hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, such a one shall be blessed in what he does.n 
Doers of the Word: We all understand how notoriously difficult it is for Christians (or for anyone who commits to live from principle rather than from mere preference or emotion) to mean what they say and to live what they mean. In the Catholic Rite of Ordination of Priests there is this command given by the Bishop: “Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” As your spiritual exercise this week, read first thing when you get up in the morning the Gospel reading chosen for the Catholic Mass for each day this week (if you are a Catholic), or read one scene from a Gospel of your choosing, and then find a way to do what Jesus did, to imitate what He did, before the day is done, something that you saw Him do in that particular Gospel scene. We likely lack His ability to heal a leper or to raise the dead, but by analogy we do have the ability to approach in friendship a person who has been “thrown away” by a group (as were lepers) or to find a way to show kindness to someone who is feeling that no one would wish to show him or her that very thing (to raise someone up from a kind of virtual death). “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.”
p Mt 27:33–44; Mk 15:22–32; Jn 19:17–24.
q 22:37; Is 53:12.
* [Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”]: this portion of Lk 23:34 does not occur in the oldest papyrus manuscript of Luke and in other early Greek manuscripts and ancient versions of wide geographical distribution.
r Nm 15:27–31; Ps 22:19; Mt 5:44; Acts 7:60.
s Ps 22:8–9.
 Concerning the astonishing work that is The Saint John’s Bible, overseen by Donald Jackson, the Artistic Director of the massive Project: “The Saint John’s Bible is a work of art and a work of theology. A team of artists coordinated by Donald Jackson in Wales and a team of scholars in Central Minnesota have brought together the ancient techniques of calligraphy and illumination with an ecumenical Christian approach to the Bible rooted in Benedictine spirituality. The result is a living document and a monumental achievement.” See: http://www.saintjohnsbible.org/promotions/process/. By the way, there is a complete original copy of The St. John’s Bible kept at the University of Portland (Oregon), where it is available for anyone to go see.
 At Ash Wednesday we associate the application of ashes to the foreheads with the words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” – an association of sign and words in use by the 8th century in the West. But it is curious, is it not, that we do not apply “dirt” or “dust” to the forehead, but specifically ashes? To my poetic sensibility, the Church desires the connection between ashes and fire. It is not the dust connection, referencing our being made by God from the “dust” of the Earth (Genesis 2). Instead, it is the ashes’ connection to the fire that makes them that is the point.
 For historical background of ashes and Ash Wednesday, see: http://catholicstraightanswers.com/what-are-the-origins-of-ash-wednesday-and-the-use-of-ashes/.
 To be “of fire” is quite different from being “on fire.”
* Baptism: i.e., his death.
u Mk 10:38–39.
 François Bovon, Luke 3 in the Hermeneia series, at Luke 23:34 makes the following note: “This verse poses one of the major textual problems in the Gospel of Luke.” Bovon also argues that the textual evidence in the oldest manuscripts comes out about even: some of the most ancient manuscripts include this verse; others do not.
 Perhaps we all have heard this verse so often, knowing that Jesus said it from the Cross, that we “let” the necessity of that forgiveness that Jesus offered on their behalf to the Father be, well, necessary … and therefore something that God needed to have happen “for us and for our salvation.” Once we have begun to think like this, we normalize what Jesus said there on the Cross as “just the kind of thing that Jesus would do.”
 The Oxford English Dictionary at the verb “to sneer” – “To smile scornfully or contemptuously; to express scorn, derision, or disparagement in this way; to speak or write in a manner suggestive or expressive of contempt or disparagement.”
 The Oxford English Dictionary at the verb “to jeer” – “To speak or call out in derision or mockery; to scoff derisively.”
 The Oxford English Dictionary at the adjective “gruesome” – “Inspiring fear, awe, or horror; such as to cause one to shudder with fear; fearful, horrible; grisly.”
 Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah and 2: From Gethsemane to the Grave, a Commentary on the Passion Narratives in the Four Gospels, vol. 1 (New York; London: Yale University Press, 1994), 973. Consider Raymond Brown’s attempt to understand how it was possible for Jesus to ask that they be forgiven because of their ignorance (?!): “More needs to be said about the Lucan Jesus’ praying for the Jewish agents who have been so consistently hostile to him. How can he say that “they do not know what they are doing”? The chief priests and their cohorts have heard Jesus preach and have quite deliberately rejected his proclamation. They are part of a Jerusalem that Jesus has denounced for killing the prophets (13:34). Yet it was to obdurate Jerusalemites Jesus attributed ignorance, “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace; but now they are hidden from your eyes” (19:42). Seemingly in the Lucan understanding, no matter how much the evil was plotted, the perpetrators can always be said not to have known (i.e., appreciated God’s goodness or plan) or else they would not have acted as they did.”
 There are many examples of theologies that have wondered, and not without learning and profoundness, about how redemption happens, how it was/is successfully accomplished in us; that explore by what “mechanism” God worked or works to bring about our salvation there, at and through the Cross and Resurrection and Ascension?
 The Oxford English Dictionary concerning the adjective “ghastly”, notes that its root is in an Old English verb “to gast” meaning “to frighten, alarm, or terrify” but sourced in an earlier meaning “to torture.” “Ghastly” means: “†In early use: Causing terror, terrible (obsolete). In modern use (cf. 2): Suggestive of the kind of horror evoked by the sight of death or carnage; horrible, frightful, shocking.”
 Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah and 2: From Gethsemane to the Grave, a Commentary on the Passion Narratives in the Four Gospels, vol. 1 (New York; London: Yale University Press, 1994), 980. “It is ironical that perhaps the most beautiful sentence in the Passion Narrative should be textually dubious.”
 Remember how Peter felt such revulsion at the thought of Jesus’ being murdered in Jerusalem. But he could not even have imagined the further horror that Jesus would then forgive them even as they killed Him!
 François Bovon, Luke 3 in the Hermeneia series, concerning Luke 23:34, offers this biting judgment as to why many interpreters have wanted to exclude this verse from Luke’s Gospel: “I believe instead that this genuinely Lukan prayer of Jesus [at 23:34] has been eliminated by many. Why? For reasons of logic and anti-Semitism. As we have seen, the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE appeared to the Christians to be retribution for the death of Jesus. To transmit the prayer of Jesus was to admit that the Master was mistaken, since God had not forgiven. To remove this mark of charity was also to give free rein, as unfortunately many Christians in antiquity did, to hostility against the Jews. I retain, therefore, the prayer of Jesus in the text of the Gospel of Luke. The presence of this prayer confirms the saintliness that the author applies to Christ during his agony.”
r Mt 5:38–48.
s Prv 25:21; Rom 12:20–21.
t Rom 12:14; 1 Pt 3:9.
w Lv 25:35–36.
 The Oxford English Dictionary at the noun “integrity” – “Unimpaired moral state; freedom from moral corruption; innocence, sinlessness.”
m Mt 7:26; Rom 2:13.
* Peers into the perfect law: the image of a person doing this is paralleled to that of hearing God’s word. The perfect law applies the Old Testament description of the Mosaic law to the gospel of Jesus Christ that brings freedom.
n 2:12; Ps 19:8; Rom 8:2.
 The actual line from the Rite, which is spoken by the ordaining Bishop or Archbishop to those being ordained Priests: “Let them meditate on your law day and night, so that they may believe what they have read, and teach what they have believed, and practice what they have taught.” See: https://sanctamissa.org/en/resources/books-1962/rituale-romanum/40-the-sacrament-of-holy-orders-rite-of-priestly-ordination.html. The lines are found under the subsection called “The Investiture of the New Priests.”