Forgive Us, As We Forgive

Forgive Us, As We Forgive

We become profoundly human when we are willing to confess that we were wrong, that we have sinned, and that we need forgiveness.

Forgive us our
debts/trespasses/sins
as we forgive our
debtors/trespassers/sinners.”

What is being said here? Sometimes scripture is the best commentary on scripture. Jesus tells a remarkable parable in Matthew 18:21-35.

Peter is asking Jesus how many times he has to forgive one of the brothers for sinning against him. He even suggests the answer: seven times. Since seven is the perfect, whole, complete number, this ought to be enough. Jesus should congratulate him on being so magnanimously forgiving. The Pharisees drew the line at three, then ka-pow! Jesus raised the ante. Not seven times, but seventy times seven or seventy-seven times—not sure which, but both are a lot more than seven. But the real answer to Peter’s question is not in the number, but in the parable that follows. It goes like this.

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

A king decides to collect on all his debts, and calls in all his debtors (same word as the one used in the prayer). A man comes in who owes the king 10,000 talents. Pause for a little math. One talent was the equivalent of about fifteen years of full-time salary. So this guy will need to work 150,000 years and turn over every red cent to liquidate the debt. The people who were hearing the parable knew that this was mathematically impossible. This guy owed more than the entire wealth of nations in that day. It’s like saying President Obama called you into the Oval Office and demanded that you pay off the national debt.

Well, our friend in the parable is in this long line of debtors and his turn comes and the amount owed —let’s make it an even $10 million—is read and he says, “King I don’t have it. I can’t pay.” And the king coldly, without even looking up, says to the guards, “Liquidate him. Sell his wife, his kids, his house. Hold a big garage sale. Everything goes, and throw him in prison until he can pay off the balance. Next.”

Swift. Fair. Just. He owes. He can’t pay. He’s history.

And the guy falls to his knees and says to the king, “Have patience with me and I will pay you everything.” The Greek word for what he is asking is makrothumason. It is translated, “patience.”

And the king does three unbelievable things.

  • He has compassion on the servant.
  • He cancels the entire debt.
  • He lets him go free.

It’s easy for us to look at this parable and see a king loaded with the wealth of the world. He won’t miss it if this guy can’t pay.

Don’t take that picture of God. Beneath the regal robe of this forgiving king is a cross-shaped scar, a hidden reminder of the cost of forgiveness. It is not obvious in the parable, but it is an essential part of the portrait. His own Son said from a cross of injustice, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” Most of the time I think we did know what we were doing, but he died for us anyway.

The king cancelled the debt and set the servant free. Yet the servant tracks down his debtors, demanding they pay up. When they ask for patience, he refuses.

He’s living like he still owes the debt, and if he has to pay, so does everyone else. The saddest thing about the story is that he didn’t hear what the king said; he doesn’t know that he is forgiven. The guy thought he had gotten what he asked for—makrothumason—more time to repay the debt. Instead of compassion and makrothumason, he delivers swift, immediate justice to his debtors.

When news travels to the king of the servant’s demands for payment from his fellow-servants, the king is furious. He reverses his first decision, demanding the servant to be tortured and paying the debt in full.

The refusal to forgive is too great a torture for humans to bear. It is a self-imposed prison.

When the king forgave the debt, the servant walked away owing nothing—almost. He did owe something. Something that only the forgiven can repay. Something that the Lord’s Prayer is calling us to.

Forgive as He Has Forgiven Us

What we owe God for our forgiveness is resemblance—to forgive as he has forgiven us. The people expected this man to reflect the grace he had received toward his fellow humans. When they saw no resemblance, they knew this was wrong.

What’s the status of your little black IOU book? Is it filled with names of those who lied about you, stole from you, took advantage of you, raped you, cheated on you, intentionally hurt you?

Hear me carefully. Be angry. What was done to you was not right in the sight of God. But do not live into your anger. Release this person into the hands of God for God to do with them what mercy and justice does. And be set free to forgive as God has forgiven you.

You are empowered by the Spirit of God to resemble God by taking the posture of forgiveness.

Today’s post is an excerpt from The Lord’s Prayer: Imagine it Answered.

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