Day Five: Forgive Us the Things We Owe
One of the extraordinary things about Jesus’ ambitions in his public career was his aim to form a new kind of family: a family of forgiveness. This, of course, is rooted in God’s promises in Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 34-36, and comes through supremely in Isaiah 40-55—the promise of comfort—when God fully and finally deals with the sins and idolatry of his people. At the heart of the Lord’s Prayer is the motivation to share with one another what we have received from God: the daily bread of forgiveness, which nourishes and sustains relationships.
Families in the first century were multi-generational and included servants and others who all shared a common life together. The family unit was the primary source of safety and provision. As such, the family bond was crucial. If debts were owed, they were sorted out. When things went wrong, they needed to be reconciled. However, the idea of interpersonal ‘forgiveness’ was something new.
‘Debts’ and forgiveness go rather closely together. Some translations of the Bible use trespasses rather than debts. However, both words need to be thought through. In Luke 4:19, Jesus declares he has been sent ‘to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’, which calls to mind the year of Jubilee when debts were wiped off the record. At the heart of the Lord’s Prayer is this idea of relief—as when you are seeking to be released from a debt that is owed.
Yet, it does not stop there. As we pray, ‘Forgive us our trespasses/debts’, we also are praying that we too might celebrate the year of our Lord’s favor. We are praying that we will be empowered to forgive the debts of others, and release those who have cost us something by their offenses. In practice, we need to find ways today to make this a reality in the church, both in our own life and in the life of our community. We might also campaign that debts will be released and relieved wherever possible, for we are Jesus’ new family of forgiveness.
The door that opens as we receive God’s forgiveness enables an openness that swings in the direction of forgiving somebody else. If we insist on locking the door to other people who need our forgiveness (whether of sins or debts or anything else), then we are in effect slamming the door shut against God’s forgiveness and saying, No I don’t want to be a forgiveness person.
Jesus of Nazareth went about proclaiming and extending the ‘forgiveness of sins’ apart from the normal way of sacrifices at the temple. This was quite an extraordinary thing for him to do! Who did Jesus think he was? What was he doing? With Christian hindsight, we see that he was precisely inaugurating the New Covenant of God’s Kingdom on earth as in heaven.
Today, when we are praying for the forgiveness of our sins, we are praying for the blessings of the New Covenant. We pray for reconciliation with God and for possibilities of forgiveness and reconciliation to emerge with one another. These opportunities come to us because of the work and faithfulness of Jesus the King, whose Kingdom is all about forgiveness.
Question to consider:
Jesus is the head of a new kind of family: a family of forgiveness. What is the role between release from debts and trespasses in maintaining unity and holiness in the bond of love and peace?
Living it out:
As you pray for God’s forgiveness today, practice being a ‘forgiveness person’ through whom God’s relief, release, and, gladness will flow out into the life of another.