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The Terrible Petition

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. ~Matthew 6:14-15

This week, as we continue to dive deeper into the words of the Lord’s Prayer, we come to what St. Augustine called “the terrible petition: ”Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.

Perhaps you recite this phrase a bit differently. Other common translations include “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” and “forgive us our trespasses as we for those who trespass against us.” While there are various reasons for the different translations, the seriousness of this line remains the same. We are asking God to forgive us but only to the extent in which we ourselves are willing to forgive. So to pray this line with an unforgiving heart, St. Augustine observes, is to ask God NOT to forgive us.

This principle is echoed throughout scripture. Perhaps one of the more memorable points we see this principle taught is in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant found in Matthew 18. A servant is called before his master who demands a debt of 10,000 talents be paid. To put that into terms a bit better understood today, it would be over $3 billion dollars. Working a job which earns the average wage, it would be 200,000 years of labor. This servant is in WAY over his head. There is simply no way he can even begin to pay off his debt, and he knows it.

The master has every right to throw the servant, and his family, into debtor’s prison and throw away the key. It would not only be the servant who pays the price for his foolishness and mistakes in accumulating so much debt, but his descendants for several generations. For if he and his family survive the conditions of the prison for any length of time, they would likely be sold into slavery. If you were begging not only for your own life but for the lives of your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, how hard would you beg and plead?

Upon hearing that he needed to pay up or be sold along with his wife and children, the servant did just that. He begged. Verse 26 says he “fell on his knees.” He begged for mercy, to have more time to repay the debt. He promises he will repay everything. I’ve often wondered what the servant might have been thinking in that moment. Did he really have a plan which would have repaid the debt? Or was he making plans to run away with his family? All we are told is that the master takes pity on the servant, cancels this HUGE debt, and lets him go free.

We all have likely faced debt. Car payments. Home mortgages. Credit cards. Medical bills. These and other debts can feel overwhelming at times but in today’s world, we don’t have to fear being sold into slavery if we are unable to make our payments. Yes, there are consequences such as repossession, damaged credit, or the inability to get certain jobs, but we don’t become the property of another person. And yet, even still, imagine how you would feel to log into your account and find your debt suddenly paid off. No more college loans, house payments, or car payments. No more debt collectors calling you. No more wondering how you will make ends meet this month or make that pay check stretch to the end of the month. How would you celebrate?

The servant in our story went out to find another servant who owed him only 100 silver coins and demands to be paid the full amount immediately. Again, to put that into terms we can better understand, the amount the 2nd servant owes the first is about $14,000. Enough to be noteworthy but, in comparison to well over $3billion, pocket change. This fellow servant begs for mercy, for patience, for time to pay back what he owes but finds none and is instead thrown into prison. When the master finds out about how the servant he has forgiven treats his fellow servant, he is outraged. His decision is reversed and the first servant is thrown into jail to be tortured until his original debt is paid.

Jesus ends the parable by reminding us that we will be treated the same unless we forgive our brother or sister from our heart.

Forgiveness isn’t always easy to do. But it isn’t about what is easy, it is about doing what God has called us to do. We all have sinned. We all need God’s forgiveness. So we should all be willing to extend the forgiveness we seek to others.

Forgiveness is hard because it is so much easier to focus on how we have been wronged than on how we have wronged others. It is our human nature to dismiss the hurts of others as them being overly sensitive or too easily offended. A popular term right now is to call them “snowflakes.” We hear it often as a way of dismissing the valid hurts and grievances of the opposing side. Instead of admitting our actions have hurt someone else, we would prefer to focus on how others have hurt or wronged us in some way. Often our human nature exaggerates our hurts, making them seem bigger to us than they likely are in reality. We see this in our tendency to answer someone’s point about a big issue with a “but what about this one time where I experienced something a little unfair” sort of response. I’m sure we have all had moments where life wasn’t fair to us, but we forget that our isolated moments so not compare to a constant stream of moments.

Forgiveness is often a hard thing to really practice. Especially when it comes to those deep hurts. Those soul-shattering, life-changing hurts. Especially when the one who hurt us doesn’t know or doesn’t care that they hurt us and sees no reason or need for repentance. But we are still called to forgive, as Our Father has forgiven us.

Follow Up:

  • Who do you need to forgive in your life right now? Why have you withheld forgiveness? Don’t feel like you have to do it all on your own. Ask God to help you, to soften your heart towards that person. Also, remember that forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to put yourself in a place to be hurt by them again. It’s OK to maintain healthy boundaries, especially if they do not believe they did anything wrong or are willing to repent of a wrong they know they did. Seek out wise counsel if you need help navigating what it means to forgive and let go.

  • Take a moment and remember all the times you have been shown mercy and forgiveness. How have you responded? How have those experiences shaped you?

  • Consider your actions and judgements of others recently. Have you perhaps brushed off the hurt feelings of another, declaring them to be “too sensitive?” How can you ask forgiveness from that person? How can you strive to better see their point of view?

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