In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus teaches us how to pray. We receive both a specific set of petitions we are to make our own and at the same time a pattern of how to approach our Heavenly Father with thanksgiving and petition.
Much has been said on the Our Father. What caught my attention today was that after the conclusion of the Our Father, Jesus emphasizes forgiving wrongs others have done to us as a dependent condition for receiving forgiveness from God. In a short span of four verses, three of them are about forgiveness.
Sin and justice can be challenging concepts. How do we ever get at a one-for-one relationship between the harm done and the recompense provided? Can we really render what is due to the other in these circumstances? How can we truly make things right with others in the sense that they are placed in the same position they were before as if the transgression never occurred? The scars remain. The memories live on, no matter how hard we suppress them. Likewise, it seems impossible to conceive that God can forgive and forget our sins. God is all-knowing; He knows the beginning from the end. Nothing catches Him by surprise.
If I steal a car from you, we can quantify the value of the car and the value of the lost time for being without it. I can give you this amount in cash. Justice has been done from a purely economic standpoint. But something else is still not right. You do not trust me anymore. You think of me differently. I have revealed a deep flaw in my character to you, such that you are concerned I might do it again or something worse. You no longer leave your car unlocked at night. You get a security system. You look at me and secretly wonder what evil I am devising.
When we move beyond the tangible and economic, we get to the deeper spiritual issue. The fracture in relationship. The break in community. Our social bond is severed. Yet somehow God asks you to forgive me of my trespass against you in the deepest sense. He asks you to send away (the Greek root for ‘forgive’) the sin I have committed against you. He asks you to release it. Somehow the great mystery of the infinite Triune God, the Son takes upon Himself the sin of the world (John 1:29). In this sending away of sin, nothing is left over.
Thinking of all the wrongs we have done, and the wrongs done to us, we might quickly realize how many transgressions we have yet to release. I believe this is sometimes because we do not fully trust in divine justice. We cannot see how some people could or should be forgiven for the pain they have caused. We can lose sight of how much we have been forgiven. We scoff at those who bring us this message from the Gospel because they have not been through what we have been through. “If only you knew my pain,” we think. But God does know your pain. The Lord Jesus suffered immeasurably on every level. And we do not forgive merely for the sake of keeping things copacetic or functional or economically balanced. We forgive because that is what God asks us to do. When we hold tightly to the sin others have committed against us, we are weighted down from ascending to holiness. When we forgive, we are most like Jesus Christ.
To release these burdens, only through the power of grace, allows us to be fully actual. The ‘how’ of this process is a great mystery. Yet, by the love and grace of God, it can be done. Some of the great saints have done this. Think of Pope St. John Paul II forgiving the man who tried to assassinate him. Think of the great Christian martyrs, from Polycarp to Thomas More. The Lord Jesus even said from the cross “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”