It is perhaps seven or eight hours until the sun rises on Easter morning, and I am thinking about two things. One is Anthony De Mello, who in talking of our enemies says, "Given the background, the life experience, and the unawareness of this person, he (sic) cannot help behaving the way he does. It has been so well said that to understand all is to forgive all. If you really understood this person you would see him as crippled and not blameworthy..."
The other is Jesus being nailed to his cross and praying, "Forgive them for they know not what they do."
I don't think Jesus was praying just for the drunken louts who were doing what the procurator paid them to do. He was praying also for the procurator and the High Priest, and the Sanhedrin and the countless, nameless ones who worked the machinery of power. He was praying for his friend Judas who had thought that the best course of action was to give the authorities what they wanted. All of them were not so much evil as ignorant; unaware of who they were dealing with and unaware of why they themselves thought and acted as they did. All of them, I suspect, were working with the best of motives and thought at the time that they were doing what was true and good.
This is a hard truth that Jesus' absolute forgiveness faces us with. How much easier to have a couple of separate categories, the bad guys and the good guys into which to sort people. With those simple labels we can, with very little mental sleight of hand, imagine that we are in the group that wears the white hats and consign all those who make us uncomfortable into the group that wears the black hats. By keeping a few simple rules, or by adhering to the right few easily understood doctrines we can give ourselves the comforting knowledge that we are on the right side of the line. We have the added pleasure of being able to pity, or loathe, or fear or vilify those on the wrong side of the line. We have done this for centuries to the principal villains of the Easter story, to Judas and Pilate and Caiaphas, and at times our loathing and fear has spilled out onto groups of others whom we have imagined share some of the guilt of these three.
But Jesus lies with his lacerated back on grey splintered wood and watches as someone puts a nail against his wrist and in his anguish and terror he yet forgives. And in forgiving he tells us that there is no line; we are all there with the soldiers and priests and deserters and cowards, each one of us. We cannot look to others for blame, but only to ourselves.
This is a harder call. Judas is crippled and not blameworthy, but if this is true, then so am I. And it's so much easier to find a reprehensible other to hate and fear than it is to acknowledge the partiality and error of my own awareness. But as the admission of the dullness of my own sight is the harder call, so is the remedy more glorious; for as the villains of Good Friday are forgiven, absolutely and unconditionally, then so am I. And I am invited to participate in a resurrection which Judas, tragically, never saw. I am invited to allow the Holy Spirit to lead me to a new awareness of myself and my motives which, though at times is excruciatingly and humiliatingly painful, enables me to live the life into which Jesus calls me.