I’m entitled to a little grudge just once in a while, aren’t I?
9 Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
(Matthew 6:9 – 15. ESVUK)
We are fond of the easy parts of the Bible: Father, you are holy, may your kingdom come, provide for us, forgive us, deliver us. Other bits can make us feel uncomfortable, we either concentrating on words around them or find ways around them. As we have forgiven out debtors, is one of these. Have we forgiven out debtors?
Did Jesus really say that we will not be forgiven if we do not forgive?
Yes. He really did, To understand it we need to go back to the Old Testament law, Leviticus 25 tells of the year of Jubilee. After 6 cycles of 7 years the 50th year isthe year that all land is returned to its original family. If your grandfather was not good at economics and had to sell the family farm, you get it back in the year of Jubilee. Have you got debts? They are written off in the year of Jubilee. Have you had to sell yourself into slavery to pay a debt? You and your family are set free in the year of Jubilee. That debts should be cancelled, and that people, not just God, have to write them off, is written into God’s Law.
Feeling uncomfortable yet?
Of course if you are a Christian you will be familiar with these words, we are used to saying “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us,” The use of trespasses hides the fact that Jesus was talking about debt as well as sins.
It seems odd to us that in the passage above, from the ESV translation, that Jesus should talk about debts in the prayer and yet trespasses when he comments afterwards. The Authorized Version does the same. The reason is that the Greek is different as well. According to blueletterbible.org Jesus used opheilēma, translated debts, when teaching the prayer (verse 12) and paraptōmata, literally falling beside, translated trespasses in verses 14 and 15.
(Here on seeing the word paraptōmata my visual and autistic mind gets sidetracked into an image of a parrot on a tomato. I’m pausing writing here while I clear this image from my mind.)
Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, in Like 11, does not have the warning about unforgiveness after the prayer. It goes: Forgive us our sins (Greek hamartia), for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted (opheilō) to us. (also ESV).
We cannot get away from the we have forgiven debts or we are forgiving debts having a literal meaning. It is good to see that organisations such as Christians Against Poverty are not only helping people with debts, but doing it so well that they get good mentions on Martin Lewis’s Money Saving Expert TV shows and website.
Before I conclude with a few words about our unforgiveness and grudge holding I have to mention repentance. Forgiveness and repentance go hand in hand. The message of Jesus and by extension the message of the church is not all about forgiveness but repentance. It is the nature of God to forgive and that plays out in the message to the world of repentance. John the Baptist’s ministry of preparing the way for Jesus was to preach repentance. Jesus started his ministry by saying Repent. After Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit had come on the disciples they preached repentance. God is a God of forgiveness and he forgives firstly by calling people to repentance. That is how we come to God, in repentance, which is not saying sorry, though it often includes that, but is a turning around to live your life in a different way. That is how we come to God, in repentance, not only when we first believe but every time we pray.
The Lord’s Prayer was not first given to new believers, but to disciples who had been following Jesus. People who we can assume had already made the turn around that is repentance. People who had started the journey of following Jesus, people who had started the journey of becoming like Jesus. Becoming like Jesus who had the nature of God in him.
Having God’s nature growing in us through the Holy Spirit we are to show the world what God is like by living by the values of the kingdom of God which does not pull people down but builds them up, helps them out of debt and out of sin and error. By forgiving people’s sins and debts we are showing people a God who forgives and does not bear grudges, not even little ones.
Forgiving people who have hurt us is difficult, it may take time, a lot of time, but it is a thing that brings us joy as well as them, because we are sharing in God’s work of showing the world what God is like.