By Dorette Saunders
The Lord’s Prayer is one of the most recited prayers of the Christian faith. Jesus taught his disciples this model prayer (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4)) to guide them in their quest to approaching God. Perhaps, like us, the disciples would later repeat the prayer, not stopping much to savor the words of each petition.
“Forgive us for doing wrong, as we forgive others…” (v. 12, CEV), we say, oftentimes tripping over the word “trespasses” or “debts” found in some translations.
Forgiveness is such an integral part of a Christian’s life that it is mentioned again in the two verses that follow the traditional Lord’s Prayer in Matthew’s Gospel.
Like a N.B. (nota bene) that’s attached to the end of a letter, or a coda in a musical piece, we cannot finish without it. It seeks our attention:
“If you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, your Father in heaven will forgive you. But if you don't forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15, CEV).
So when Peter questions Jesus as to how many times he should forgive someone who has wronged him (Matthew 18:21), directly after Jesus gives a lesson on how to treat those who offend us (Matthew 18:15-17), perhaps Peter had come to the end of his rope with a repeat offender. But if Peter had expected Jesus to agree that “seven times” was enough, he was mistaken.
Pause for a moment for a “forgiveness” selfie. What do we say about someone who has pushed all our buttons?
“They’re getting on my last nerves!”
As a rule, do we rush to forgive that individual? Answer, and take the selfie.
It is amazing when we examine these teachings of Jesus in light of our own behaviors.
When Jesus teaches, he is not looking at us as seminary students taking notes for their next preaching session. He looks at us, just as we are, everyday individuals who are subject to passions of anger and jealousy, spite and resentment. He sees us in a world rife with temptation to dogmatically refuse to forgive those who hurt or offend us. So Jesus tells Peter:
“Not just 7 times, but 77 times!” (Matthew 18:22, CEV)
In essence, Jesus says, “No, Peter, stop counting. No need for Math here. Go back to Lesson One. Love God, and love your neighbor.”
To reinforce the lesson, Jesus relates a parable. In it, he tells of a man whose huge debt was totally forgiven by the king, but who, after receiving such grace, goes after someone who owed him far less. When the king hears, he orders the man, whose debt he had forgiven, to be tortured until he could repay the debt (Matthew 18:23-34).
Then Jesus gives this warning.
“That is how my Father in heaven will treat you, if you don't forgive each of my followers with all your heart” (Matthew 18:35, CEV).
Being human we crave forgiveness, but often do not offer it; we are legalistic and reject calls to show compassion. That’s why Jesus came to die for us, to show us how to live, and how to love. That’s why when we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, God makes us a new creation in Christ.
We must strive to model God’s loving ways with those around us. Jesus teaches us that in another lesson.
“You have heard people say, ‘Love your neighbors and hate your enemies.’ But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you. Then you will be acting like your Father in heaven…” (Matthew 5:43-45, CEV).
Our ability to act like God, and forgive others, comes no less than from the heart of God. It is the Holy Spirit who teaches and transforms us into the kingdom people God wants us to be.
PRAYER: God, remind me how deeply you love me, and how you have forgiven me of much. Create in me a forgiving spirit. Help me to be generous in using in it, especially when my patience is being tested. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.