Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
We’ve come a long way so far in our look at the Lord’s Prayer. In fact, we’re closer to the end now than we are the beginning. And yet, as slow as we’re moving, it’s still too fast. There will always be more to explore, more to learn, more to experience. In this prayer to the Father of fathers, we started by focusing on God and His realm, praying that His name be holy, His kingdom come, and His will be done. Of course, these things are all done whether we pray for them or not, but with these petitions, we pray that they would be true for us, that I would keep God’s name holy in my life, that I would live in His kingdom, renouncing all others, that I would surrender my will to His, all so that things would be done here on earth just as they are done around the throne of God.
This past week, the focus of this prayer shifted. It’s a shift from prayers about God to prayers about us. You can see it just in the language. Thy name, Thy kingdom, Thy will. Give us, Forgive us, Lead us, Deliver us. When we pray, “give us this day our daily bread,” notice what we’re praying for: we’re praying for bread, not cake. What we need, not an over-the-top, extravagant, overabundance. We pray for our bread, not just my bread. This is a communal prayer request that expects you and me to be sharing what we have with those who do not have. And it’s a prayer for more than just bread. As Luther says, this prayer is “for everything that is necessary to have and enjoy daily bread.” We’d have to include in this request the grocery stores and their employees, the truck drivers and the folks that made their trucks, the farmers and their fields, seasonable weather and good seed, let alone a thriving economy, a stable government, and a world at peace. Add onto that the fact that Jesus calls Himself “the Bread of Life,” and you’ve got a pretty comprehensive prayer wrapped up in just a few short words.
But Jesus doesn’t dwell there. He moves on to the next prayer request, the fifth petition, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” At first we’re ok with this request. Forgive us! Makes sense. I know my sins, my pride, my lusts, my anger… Of course I want God to forgive me for those sins! You know better than I the sins you struggle with from day to day: tearing others down so that you look that much better in comparison, anger and arguments with your spouse over things that don’t matter, even sins of laziness, gluttony, and coveting that we know are sins but talk about far too little. Your sins need to be forgiven.
But then, Jesus follows our request for forgiveness with , “as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And if we spend any time thinking about it, it certainly sounds like God forgives us because we forgive others. It sounds like a “quid pro quo” sort of deal: you do this for me, and I’ll do that for you. If that were the case, then we’d be in trouble. If God’s forgiveness is dependent on my forgiving, then I would be lost. I would only say the words as a way to get forgiveness, not because I’ve actually forgiven anyone. I would just be pressing the right buttons on the god-machine in order to get what I want out of it.
But notice the language used to connect the two phrases. It’s not “forgive us our trespasses because we forgive those,” but “as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Our forgiveness isn’t the cause for God’s forgiveness, but a picture of God’s forgiveness. In this petition, we’re not just asking to be forgiven, but also that our forgiving of others would be a picture of the forgiveness we’ve received. God pours His forgiveness into you and me and it flows from God, through us, to others. We forgive because we’ve been forgiven.
Perhaps it helps to think about this in financial terms. That’s actually the original wording in Matthew’s recording of the Lord’s Prayer. “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Jesus absolutely gives the term a deeper meaning, but it’s based on its original sense. If my debt has been canceled and I owe nothing to anyone, why would I try to collect on debts owed me that I don’t need anymore. Your debt to God has been canceled. You owe Him nothing. So, don’t hold any charges against those around you.
While it certainly sounds good on paper, it’s a pretty difficult idea to try to put into practice. Jesus Himself will keep coming back to this topic so that you and I would forgive as we have been forgiven. In fact, in Matthew 18, He tells a rather helpful parable to try to get us to understand this very thing. He says, “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.”
Now, let’s pause here for a moment before we keep going. Ten thousand of anything sounds like a lot, but how much is it really? Scholars disagree as to exactly how much a talent was forth in the New Testament world, some say a talent is worth three year’s worth of work, others only a hundred days. For the sake of argument, let’s go on the cheap side of things. Assuming minimum wage, ten thousand talents would be over seventy-five million dollars. That’s a lot of money this servant owes the King.
“And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’”
How ridiculous a claim is that?! “Just give me more time, and I’ll come up with it.” If he didn’t have it then, he’s never going to get it. Especially coming from the mouth of a servant, this plea is worthless. This is not America here, but Roman-occupied Palestine. There was very little rising in the ranks going on. If you were born a servant, you were always going to be a servant. There is no way you’re going to be able to come up with that kind of cash.
“And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.” You can almost hear the gasp coming from Jesus’ audience. This great debt has been forgiven, wiped away, expunged from the servant’s record. Image for a moment that you are this servant. You dug yourself a hole deeper than anyone could imagine and saddled yourself with a debt you could never hope to repay. You were facing slavery for yourself and your entire family for entire generations if you didn’t repay. And all of a sudden, that debt is gone. The burden is lifted. You are free.
“But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii,” Still a good chunk of change, about $7,500, using our minimum wage estimate, but nowhere near the millions just forgiven. “And seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’” Why does the forgiven servant respond this way? His debt is canceled. He owes nothing. But now he’s demanding what he feels is due to him. “So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’” It’s the same thing the forgiven servant had asked fo the king, but in this case, it’s not an entirely unreasonable request. It would still be touch work. It would still take time. But it wasn’t ridiculous. And yet it wasn’t good enough.
“He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.” This forgiven servant refused to forgive. And he ends up making a pretty stupid decision because of it. If you’re in prison, you’re not working. If you’re not working, you’re not making any money. And if you’re not making any money, you can’t pay back what you owe. It’s counterproductive, let alone ungracious.
“When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.”
How terrifying is that? His debt was forgiven. He was in the clear. Nothing counted against Him. And yet he didn’t take that forgiveness to heart. He had been forgiven so great an amount, yet couldn’t forgive a paltry offense. And so the king removes His forgiveness. What had been forgiven was forgiven no longer. And Jesus ends His parable, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
You’ve been forgiven. Forgiven so much more than you could ever know or imagine. How dare you mock God and His forgiveness by refusing to forgive your neighbor? Human beings hold grudges for generations over petty problems, but Jesus says this should not be so. You have been forgiven, so forgive.
I know some of you are thinking it, so I might as well address it: “what about that one thing that that person did to me that I just can’t forgive? I’ve tried for months if not years to forgive, but I just can’t seem to let it go.” Having difficulty forgiving is not the same as refusing to forgive.Our human emotions can have such a grip on our hearts that we can’t always do what we know we should do. But perhaps our lack of forgiveness shows that we don’t realize just how much we’ve been forgiven. You’ve been forgiven a mile, but you can’t forgive a millimeter. You been forgiven millions, but can’t forgive pennies. You’ve been forgiven ages upon ages, but can’t forgive seconds. You’ve been forgiven an eternal separation, but can’t forgive a limited problem.
Reflect on the forgiveness Christ has won for you. That’s what this season of Lent is all about, turning to the cross. The more you know your sin and the more you know your Savior, the more you’ll know just how much you’ve been forgiven. And that forgiveness will overflow in you so that you will forgive as you have been forgiven.
So we pray: God, our good and gracious Father, I know my sins and am ashamed. Yet Your Son took went to the cross, too all my sins upon Himself, and put them to death. Thank You for the forgiveness won for me through His sacrifice and resurrection. Help me to so know and experience my forgiveness that I would freely and joyfully forgive others. Father, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Lobe den Herrn
B. A. Woell