Luke’s Saviour meets us eagerly with that forgiveness in two episodes unique to his Gospel. Jesus speaks from the cross: ‘Father, forgive them, for know not what they do’. The word He uses for ‘know’, oidasin, is actually a verb of beholding: eidō. We cannot see, Jesus says; we lack recognition; that is not a matter for condemnation but a demonstration of our need. The episode is balanced by a startling act of true seeing: the repentant thief who addresses Jesus familiarly by his name (an unprecedented intimacy, the only time in the Gospel that this happens). He rebukes the man hanging on the other side and asks to be remembered in Jesus’ kingdom. We deserve our judgment, our krima (the word means both crime and sentence) he explains to the other malefactor, ‘but this man has done nothing atopos’ – nothing ‘out of order’. This is a supreme moment of recognition: this man has seen and known; he has been seen and known. Out of his own extremity, Jesus still offers him absolution and sustenance. Beholding, seeing, if we can bear it, may yet transform our rational despair.
I spoke, in the first hour, of the wordless prayer which is expressed by the body: in tears and in cries; in suffering; in blood and tears and sweat. Luke’s dying Lord makes that suffering a prayer, articulated in his words of forgiveness and promise, trust and final committal: ‘Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit’; enacted in the endurance of his slow death. At the end of everything we come to a cry. ‘In the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.’ Jesus cried ‘with a loud voice’, megalē phonē; in this cry, and in the words of committal, we learn that he ‘gave up the ghost’. The Greek word is stilly unemphatic: exepneusen: ‘he breathed out’. That last breath is a gift in its finality, a breath which breathes into the world the life it gives away.