“Forgive us …” – Prayer series V

“And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.”
Matthew 6: 12

Jesus teaches that our relationships with God and our neighbours are closely tied. This was different from the tradition in which Jesus was raised and appears contrary to the world’s mindset today. Today, the typical human assumption is that the violator must ask for forgiveness before the wronged party can be expected to accept the apology and grant forgiveness. The cry “Never forget and never forgive” has been echoed throughout history. But Jesus asks the person wronged to forgive the one responsible for the wrongdoing even when there is no confession of guilt.

Is this possible? Can I forgive someone who has caused me great pain and sorrow? Can Christians who have suffered at the hands of oppressive governments, forgive them for years of murder and mayhem? This is a tricky question to which those of us who have never endured such suffering. We cannot presume to give easy answers. Yet a voice from the cross echoes across history to all, saying: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Neither Pilate, the high priest, nor the centurion offered any apology to Jesus, yet he prayed for divine forgiveness for them amid their brutality to him. Jesus acted out the second half of this prayer on the cross in total innocence of wrongdoing. This is not the cry of the weak but the extraordinary voice of the strong.

The world despises Jesus’ message because it thinks anger is necessary to fuel the struggle for justice.  In very few words, the Lord’s Prayer weaves together some of the weightiest themes of Jesus’ theology. In this week’s verse, Jesus connects God’s forgiveness of his people with their willingness to forgive others. Forgiveness must be offered even when it is not requested. The model is Jesus on the cross. Jesus used the Aramaic word khoba when he taught the Lord’s Prayer. That word means both debts and sins. We need forgiveness for both. Debts refers to unfulfilled obligations toward God and our fellow human beings. We should have reached out compassionately to our neighbour but failed to do so, and so our love for God is incomplete. So, we ask God to forgive us for our failures towards Him and others. 

Corrie Ten Boom once said, “Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness”.

Forgiveness is a recurring need, like daily bread.