Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
Socrates is said to have written, ‘the unexamined life is not worth living.‘ Many years later Henry David Thoreau would pen the words, ‘most men lead lives of quiet desperation.‘ Jesus‘ instruction that we should pray, ‘forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,‘ is wisdom and grace intended to interrupt the cycle of the unexamined life so that we can leave behind a life of desperation. Thinking about, talking about and admitting sin often raises within us more desperation, which is what we are trying to avoid. Confession, repentance, and prayer for forgiveness is not meant to cause guilt or shame. All too often, this is how the church has operated, taking far too much glee in pointing out the sins of ‘others.‘ The prayer of forgiveness is meant to open our eyes and make us aware of the systems of oppression that we are a part of without even realizing. Miroslav Wolf writes, in his classic, ‘Exclusion and Embrace;‘ What gain does recognition of solidarity in sin bring: in addition to freeing us ‘from delusions about the perfectibility of ourselves and our institutions‘ (Wink), it pricks the balloons of the self-righteous of perpetrator and victim alike and protects all from perpetuating evil in the name of presumed goodness.‘
One recent example of this comes to us from Bangladesh. First, almost 400 people were killed in a garment factor which collapsed and then 8 were killed in a fire in another garment factory days later. While these factories supplied companies in the UK, Europe and Canada, we also know of the poor working conditions and pay of laborers around the world who supply goods that we here in America buy. Also recently The Foot Locker, Macy's, Sears, JcPenny's, North Place, The Gap, Kohl's, Nordstrom, Carters/Osh Kosh, North Place, Cato, The Children's Place, American Eagle and Target all refused to sign agreements requiring them to pay $500,000 over a five year period to dedicate to workplace safety improvements. This expenditure was not financially feasible.
We grocery shop at Wal Mart and shop at Target. Are we any less culpable for these recent death’s simply because we live far away and have nothing to do with the decisions made by these companies? I think not. We pray, ‘Forgive us,’ so as to be reminded that none of us are innocent. Especially in this age of globalization and multinational corporations, we are connected to people, through our consumer activity, around the world. Our buying and spending affects their lives.
The harsh news is that we are not innocent. The good news is that when we submit to examining our lives and then repent and change our actions, we not only are freed from our own desperation, but also free others, from theirs.