01 Apr The Lord’s Prayer: As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us
Removing the hindrances that block the coming of Christ involves more than just seeking forgiveness. It means giving forgiveness, too. And that can be pretty tough sometimes. As Christians we often think that unless punishments are meted out swiftly and severely our communities will turn into modern day Sodoms & Gomorrahs.
In America this fear fuels our continuation of the death penalty, world record incarceration rates, and overflowing court dockets. There is not a lot of forgiveness going around—to put it mildly. Christians know (or should know) that these actions run contrary to the teachings of Jesus and our faith. But we justify our behavior by revisiting Old Testament laws.
An “eye for an eye” makes so much better sense, because it is like a balancing of the ledger books. And it feels a lot better, too. Because it satisfies our desire for revenge. But playing tit for tat doesn’t balance our offenses before God. The book of life is not a ledger of rights vs. wrongs; it is a story of forgiveness and hope. And unless we forgive others, the forgiveness we ask of the Father will not be given.1 For it has, in fact, never been heard.
To better explain this, let’s return to the parable of water. We already know that water follows the path of least resistance. It also has another defining characteristic: it seeks its own level. This means that when water flows into a container (be it a cup, lake, or pool) it rises to a height that is level all around. Likewise, the Holy Spirit seeks its own level within of us. And its height is largely determined by our ability to forgive others, just as God forgives us.2
When we refuse to grant forgiveness, the water of the Holy Spirit dries to dust—the same dust that Jesus writes in when the angry crowd seeks to stone the adulteress.3 The dust we shuffle through daily, when we demand that others pay for their offenses and failures to live up to our expectations.
In our anxiousness for retribution, we forget that ultimately every offender pays for the offense that matters most: trespassing against the Holy Spirit.4 And the payment levied by God is that person’s continued separation from his kingdom and a life more abundant.
We must remember that an individual’s spiritual journey is long and hard, and no journey is the same. When we lose patience and are quick to judge others, we should recall how “slow to learn”5 the apostles were. Yet “slow to learn” doesn’t mean “can’t learn.” Christ’s wisdom is a seed that grows differently in every person. Even God does not know how and when it will grow inside us.6 But grow it will if we have the faith to let the will of the Father run its course, and don’t act as hindrances in its way.
It might seem impossible to forgive someone who has wronged us “seventy times seven times”.7 Because it feels like we are letting the offender off the hook. But actually we are leaving ourselves of the hook; releasing ourselves from the anger, frustration, disappointment, and superiority that often accompany our judgments.
A few chapters ago, we mentioned that we can take control of our will power if we see it as just a series of small choices. The same goes for managing and removing our judgments. Every judgment we make and every punishment we inflict is a matter of choice. And every silent judgment inflicts the Spirit with as much harm as the one that is voiced—just as the lustful heart damages the same as the lusting flesh.8 We sometimes forget that, especially when we make personal judgments about people. Our feelings seem to arise naturally, when in reality they’ve been conditioned by our choices, as well as the culture in which we live.
Few of us realize how deeply our judgments are affected by culture. Though sporting a majority Christian population, America is a country where we often take nationalism to the extreme—seeing our country’s superpower status as manifest destiny; and its cultural mores as universal ideals. That Jesus sought to erase national barriers and cultural pride makes no difference to Christians who wraps themselves in the flag.
The Lord’s Prayer & Shared Responsibility
More than just nationalistic, we Americans also place great store in personal responsibility. And while this is (in essence) an admirable trait; it can also prove a hindrance when it comes to forgiveness. As Christians, we must recognize that personal responsibility has its limits, and that we all share a certain responsibility for the trespasses of others. When we acknowledge our shared responsibility, offering forgiveness becomes a lot easier. To understand this better, let’s turn to Jesus’s parable on judgment and forgiveness.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven as a king who wishes to settle accounts with his servants. One servant owes six million pounds but cannot pay it back, so the king orders him to sell all of his possessions. The servant throws himself at his master’s feet and says, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.” Moved with compassion the king relents and forgives the servant his debt.
Later that day, the servant whose debt was forgiven sees someone who owes him ten pounds. He seizes the man by the throat and says, “Pay what you owe me!” The servant shows no compassion to his friend and throws him into debtor’s prison. When the king hears of this he sends for his servant and screams, “You wicked servant! When you begged me for mercy, I forgave you the whole of that debt. Ought not you, also, to have shown mercy to your fellow servant, just as I showed mercy to you?” Jesus goes on to say that our heavenly Father will show us no mercy, unless each one of us forgives our brothers and sisters from our hearts.9
So how are we to interpret this parable? Well, like all of Jesus’s parables, this story contains multiple lessons on different levels. On the surface level, we can say that the king understands the limitations of personal responsibility, and knows that he in some ways shares responsibility for his servant’s inability to pay his debt, thus he shows compassion and forgives the man what he owes. We are, in turn, to forgive others in the same fashion.
But let’s keep in mind that Jesus tells this story to describe the “kingdom of heaven,” which is within us. So, on a deeper level, we might say that the judgment and mercy shown by the king are symbolic of the God within (or Son), our internal judge.10 This inner judge can no more show mercy to us than a dammed river can show mercy to a barren land below the break.
He can only wait patiently until the dam we’ve created is removed, so that blessings of the Holy Spirit can flow forth. To bring down this dam we must let go of the trespasses committed by ourselves and others—not by granting blind forgiveness, but forgiveness where wisdom and compassion are combined, the gospel of Christ used as the plumb line for our decision–making.11
Read Chapter 10: And Lead Us Not Into Temptation (Overcoming Our Pride)
You have been reading Chapter 9 from the book The Living Hour: The Lord’s Prayer for Daily Life (with New Testament Gospels). This faith book on life and the power of The Lord’s Prayer is available for purchase in trade paperback below.
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- Whenever you stand up to pray, forgive any grievance that you have against anyone, that your Father who is in heaven also may forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.” – Mark 11:25–26 [↩]
- Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. – Luke 6:37 [↩]
- They said to the Master: “This woman was taken in the very act of adultery. 5 Now, the law of Moses says that we must stone her. What do you say?” 6 They asked this to tempt Jesus, so that later they may have something to accuse him with. But Jesus only stooped down and with his finger wrote on the ground. 7 When they continued asking, he stood up and said: “He that among you is without sin, let him cast the first stone at her.” 8 And again he stopped down and wrote on the ground. 9 And those which heard it, being stricken by their own conscience, left one by one, beginning with the eldest unto the last. John 8:4–9 [↩]
- I tell you that all will be forgiven every sin and slander; but slander against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 Whoever speaks against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. – Matthew 12:31 [↩]
- The disciples were utterly amazed, 52 For they had not understood about the loaves, their minds being slow to learn. – Mark 6:51-52 [↩]
- This is what the kingdom of God is like: like a farmer who has scattered seed on the ground, 27 And then sleeps by night and rises by day, while the seed is shooting up and growing, he knows not how. Mark 4:26-27 [↩]
- Peter came up, and said to Jesus: “Master, how often am I to forgive others when they wrong me? As many as seven times?” 22 But Jesus answered: “Not seven times, but ‘seventy times seven.’ – Matthew 18:21-22 [↩]
- You have heard that it was said: ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery.’ 28 I, however, say to you that anyone who looks at another to lust after them has already committed adultery with their hearts. – Matthew 5:28 [↩]
- The master sent for the servant, and said to him: ‘You wicked servant! When you begged me for mercy, I forgave you the whole of that debt. 33 Ought not you, also, to have shown mercy to your fellow servant, just as I showed mercy to you?’ 34 Then his master, in anger, handed him over to the jailers, until he should pay the whole of his debt. 35 So, also, will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each one of you forgives your brother from his heart. Matthew 18: 32–35 [↩]
- The Father himself does not judge anyone, but has entrusted the work of judging entirely to his Son. – John 5:22 [↩]
- You who reject me, and disregard my teaching, has a judge already—the very message which I have delivered will itself be your judge at the last day. John 12:48 [↩]