As a middle-schooler, Patrick Ireland first sensed God had chosen him for something. But what? Later as a survivor of the horrific Columbine (Colorado) High School massacre where thirteen were killed and twenty-four wounded, including Patrick, he began to understand an answer.
Through his long recovery, Patrick learned that clinging to bitterness causes further wounding. God showed Patrick that the key to forgiveness is to stop focusing on what others have done to us and to focus on what Jesus has done for us. Christ’s words on the cross toward His tormenters, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34), fulfilled Zechariah the priest’s prophecy of Jesus’ forgiveness (1:77). Additionally, His example revealed a purpose for Patrick, and twenty years after the tragedy, Patrick shared, “Maybe I was chosen to forgive.”
While most of us will not endure an unimaginable calamity such as the one committed at Columbine, each of us has been wronged in some way. A spouse betrays. A child rebels. An employer abuses. How do we move forward? Maybe we look to the example of our Savior. In the face of rejection and cruelty, He forgave. It is through Jesus’ forgiveness of our sins that we, ourselves, find salvation, which includes the ability to forgive others. And like Patrick, we can choose to let go of our bitterness to open our hearts to forgiveness.
Today’s passage records what Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, said about his infant son and his relationship to the coming of the Messiah. John—who was a relative of Jesus (see Luke 1:36) and whose birth was also announced by an angel (vv. 5–25)—was to “go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him” (v. 76). John accepted this role and identity and gave voice to it himself. In the gospel of John (written by John the apostle, not John the Baptist), he announces his identity and role: “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord’” (John 1:23). This quote is from the prophet Isaiah who spoke a message of comfort to the people of Israel (see Isaiah 40:1–3).