Liberators found the following prayer crumpled among the remains of the Ravensbruck concentration camp where Nazis exterminated nearly 50,000 women: O Lord, remember not only the men and women of goodwill, but also those of ill will. But do not remember the suffering they have inflicted upon us. Remember the fruits we brought thanks to this suffering—our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, the courage, the generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of this. And when they come to judgment, let all the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.
I can’t imagine the fear and pain inflicted on the terrorized woman who wrote this prayer. I can’t imagine what kind of inexplicable grace these words required of her. She did the unthinkable: she sought God’s forgiveness for her oppressors.
This prayer echoes Christ’s prayer. After being wrongly accused, mocked, beaten, and humiliated before the people, Jesus was “crucified . . . along with [two] criminals” (Luke 23:33). Hanging, with mutilated body and gasping for breath, from a rough-hewn cross, I would expect Jesus to pronounce judgment on His tormentors, to seek retribution or divine justice. However, Jesus uttered a prayer contradicting every human impulse: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (v. 34).
The forgiveness Jesus offers seems impossible, but He offers it to us. In His divine grace, impossible forgiveness spills free.
In Psalm 22:17–18, crucifixion was prophetically described some 600 years before it was invented: “All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.”
In the first century, the common attire for a Jewish man included five pieces of clothing—shoes, turban, belt, loincloth, and outer tunic. The soldiers stripped Jesus naked and after crucifying Him divided His garments as their spoils for performing the task. Then they gambled for the tunic (John 19:23–24).