Lent, Day 20 — Prayer

Jesus’s Manifesto: The Sermon on the Mount
Forgiveness

And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you;  but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses
.
(Matthew 6:12-15)

  1. Jesus concludes his example prayer and resumes his sermon. I’ve included this transition so you can see today’s theme of forgiveness clearly.
  2. This is one of those places where word choice matters. In the first line, Jesus uses the Greek word here: ὀφειλέταις, opheiletais, in the phrase “forgive us our debts.” In the last line, he uses παραπτώματα, paraptomata, in the phrase “forgive others their trespasses.”
  3. There is another word for sin, ἁμαρτια, hamartia, which means “to miss the mark.” I think it is interesting that Jesus doesn’t use it here at all. He uses metaphors: stumble, owe, trespass. I think the metaphors are important for correcting the way we normally think about sin and forgiveness.
  4. The last two lines are intimidating: “If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Is God’s forgiveness really a tit-for-tat?
  5. There’s evidence that Matthew would say yes. Matthew 18:23-35 is the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, which is about a boss who forgives a debt of millions of dollars. The forgiven man goes out and demands repayment from another man who owes him fifty bucks. So the boss un-cancels the debt! Is Matthew saying “This is how God behaves?” Or is he saying, “This is absolutely NOT how God behaves?”
  6. More evidence: in the next chapter, Jesus will say, “For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” Yes, it is intimidating!
  7. Theologically, I don’t think this is how God operates. But what does it do to our thinking if we prayed this way? “God, inasmuch as we forgive others their debts, forgive us.”
  8. Here’s a crazy idea: what if we are God to each other? What if my judgment and condemnation of others is reflexive, because Christ dwells in me and in them? The Bhagavad Gita says, “The Lord dwells in the hearts of all creatures” (18:61). If I cannot forgive God for creating the jerk who just cut me off in traffic, can I truly let God forgive me? If I damn him to hell, aren’t I damning myself, too?
  9. I think this is why Jesus uses “debts” and “trespasses,” instead of sin, because this section isn’t really about the nature of sin. It’s about forgiveness. And if we want to understand how God operates, we have to understand forgiveness from both sides.
  10. Because the secret is that there are not two sides at all, debt and debtor, trespasser and trespassed. There is only God extending grace through each of us to the other.
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