Matthew 6: 12
12 as we also have forgiven our debtors.
In the Jewish tradition forgiveness was no easy thing. In Jesus’ time people like crooked tax collectors and prostitutes were seen as totally unforgiveable, which is one of the reasons the “righteous” of the time got so het up about him associating with such people. In the Jewish tradition only those aggrieved could forgive when asked, and as tax collectors and prostitutes would have offended so many they could not possibly recall all of them so could not seek forgiveness.
It may have been an ancient methodology but it has survived into modern times. Survivors of The Holocaust often say they cannot forgive those who perpetrated the atrocities because only the dead can do that, and obviously they cannot in this life so the survivors have no right to forgive.
Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer is proposing, not for the first time, something revolutionary that we can seek forgiveness and absolution direct from God without having to seek it from every one we had offended.
This though comes at a cost as this second half of 6:12 shows. We are only entitled to be forgiven as far as we are prepared to forgive others. We cannot ask for forgiveness if we harbour sentiments along the lines of “I will never forgive so and so for the way they treated me”. If we want forgiveness we can only get it so far as we are prepared to practice it.
Not for nothing has this verse been described as the most terrifying in the whole Bible.
Yet there are many stories of people forgiving.
Jesus as he hung upon the cross gasping his final breaths called on God to forgive his persecutors for a start.
Robert Louis Stevenson when he lived for a while on a South Sea Island was in the habit of leading worship for the Islanders who wanted to worship each morning. The praise always ended with all reciting the Lord’s Prayer together. One morning as he introduced the prayer RLS arose and walked out of the building, his wife fearing he was unwell ran after him asking what the matter was he assured all was well but that he could not in conscience say the Lord’s prayer that morning until he had spoken to a certain individual and resolved a disagreement.
To practice and thus receive forgiveness we need three things:
Firstly, to understand why has someone done whatever it was, as has often been said we cannot condemn if we truly understand.
Secondly, if and when we forgive that is an end to the matter, we cannot hold on to the grievance, nursing it like Tam O Shanter’s wife to keep it warm. If we do not forget the wrong can we truly claim to have forgiven?
Lastly, we learn to love. Remember the novel and film of the early 70’s Love Story? The strapline that came from that was ‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry’ Love is an unconquerable benevolence that overcomes all, we may want to say we are sorry but we do not have to because forgiveness will come from love.
That might not be easy but Jesus never said anything would be easy but in his love we can do it and only with that power can we forgive those who sin against us.
Lord God our loving Father in Heaven, when feel insulted or offended remind us of the times we have offended or insulted others, not because we meant to perhaps but by a careless word or action, and as we recall how we were forgiven may we forgive.
In your Mercy hear our prayer,