Lenten Journey Day 10 – Forgiveness Jesus instructs us to pray the “Our Father” prayer. We say, “Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be Thy name…” Along with the request to give us this day our daily bread, there is another request that is uniquely qualified. That is, the fulfillmentof the request is dependent on our actions.
We pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This is a conditional request. Very plainly, we are saying that forgiveness from God is dependent on our willingness to forgive. Additionally, we ask for forgiveness by the same standard by which we forgive. “Forgive us our trespasses aswe forgive those who trespass against up.”
In the “Our Father,” (sometimes referred to as the “Lord’s Prayer”), Jesus has us focus on many different concepts… “Thy kingdom come thy will be done.” Or, regarding temptation, “Deliver us from evil.” Now consider this, that all of the ideas that he introduces in the prayer – heaven, God’s Will, His Holy name, deliverance from evil, temptation, and so on – and consider the complexities involved in these concepts, there is only one area of the prayer that he amplifies. After teaching the prayer (Matthew 6) Jesus continues his instruction about forgiveness. He says, “For if you forgive men of their trespasses your heavenly Father also will forgive you, but if you do not forgive men their trespasses neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses.” It is conditional. It is the one request we make of God on which there is a condition – put upon us by God (by virtue of Jesus’ instruction) and confirmed by us (by virtue of us reciting the prayer). What we are saying is that I expect to be forgiven by the same standard by which I forgive others. This is a rather difficult one to understand and requires a more mature approach to our faith. In fact we’ve been taught that God gives, God gives abundantly. We’ve been taught that God forgives. We’ve forgotten, however, that His forgiveness is dependent on our forgiving all those around us as well as forgiving ourselves.
Sometimes the word “debt” is used in place of the word “trespasses” and it offers a better metaphor for understanding the dynamics of forgiveness. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors…” Let’s move from the spiritual to the secular. For the sake of this example let us think of it in terms of banking. Who can forgive a debt? Only the one who holds the note. Since the bank holds the note, only the bank can forgive the debt. How?
There are two ways of wiping the slate clean. Either, you have to pay off the debt (we call that a “mortgage” or a “ransom”) or, the bank decides on different terms – renegotiating, adjusting, or completely forgiving. That’s what God has done with us. God says, I hold the note on life. You are indebted to me for this beautiful thing that you have and enjoy. You have the smile of your children, the air that you breathe, the mountains around you and the spray of the seas. You owe Me! But I know it seems overwhelming and you feel you can’t pay Me back. So I will work out a payment schedule so that you can pay off your debt. Here’s the deal: Love people. Forgive people. That’s it. Love each other and We’ll call it even.
How will God forgive us our sins? By the same standard we use on other people. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” We’re driving the bargain. If we forgive, God forgives. If we do not forgive others neither will He forgive us. Thus, we begin to understand that if we really want peace and if we want harmony, if we want to find the happiness in life, it is dependent on us and does not come about from some outside force. Many times we think of peace coming from above. We pray for peace, failing to understand that real peace begins with each and every one us resolving to living in harmony.
God has already given us all of the ingredients for peace. The recipe for that harmony is in the breath that we take. It is a blessing from God. And all of God’s blessings are the ingredients for peace. That includes the love that we see in the eyes of our children, the majesty of the mountains, the delicate nature of a flower or the crashing waves at the ocean. They all signal the presence of something Great, Awesome and Creative. That tells us that everything has been given to us. All of the universe is there to be enjoyed and to exist with in harmony. Therefore, the only direction where we mustlook for love and for peace is within each other. We need to reconcile with brothers and sisters, share the love that God has given. And this road to harmony and reconciliation begins by forgiving.
During the Lenten journey we’ve been asked to inventory different aspects of our life. Today we are asked to look at the ones that have hurt us. Who are they? Remember to look within and include yourself if necessary. Once identified, begin to forgive. Forgive yourself. Forgive others their trespasses, now with the certainty that once we do so, God has forgiven us.
Let us pray the prayer of St. Nerses Shnorhali:
Beholder of all I have sinned against you in thought word and deed erase the record of my offenses and write my name in the book of life. Have mercy upon your creatures and upon me a great sinner. (I Confess with Faith 7/24)