The Lord’s Prayer – Forgive us Our Trespasses

This Tuesday we are going to look at the last two petitions of the Lord’s Prayer – “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” and “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”  Please read chapter 10 of Kenneth Bailey’s Jesus Through Middle-Eastern Eyes

Within that chapter, Bailey has a good discussion on the distinctions between “trespass”, “debt”, and “sin”.  At English common law, a trespass is any affirmative act that causes harm to another person or property.  A debt, on the other hand, was an unfulfilled obligation.  In the Prayer of Confession, we ask forgiveness of both kinds of sin – by what we have done (trespass) and by what we have left undone (debts). 1979 BCP 360. Most translations of the Lord’s Prayer use the word “debt” not “trespass”. However in the verse immediately after the prayer, the word trespass is used – “and forgive us our debt as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. For if you forgive others their trespass, you heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespass.” (NRSV, Matt 6:12-14). I prefer “trespass” to better maintain the parallelism.

The difficult issue that arises with this petition is the all-encompassing nature of the forgiveness that is required of us and its relationship to justice.  In the Sermon on the Mount immediately preceding the Prayer, Jesus tells us that simply to be angry with someone is tantamount to murder (Matt 5:21-26), that we must forgo any right to retaliation (Matt 5:38-42), and that we must love and pray for our enemies (Matt 5:42-48). On the cross, after his torture and abandonment and with death being imminent, Jesus simply forgives. Luke 23:34.  This is the standard to which we are held. Therefore, is forgiveness simply the absence of justice?  If we seek justice for others are we not asking God to deliver justice upon us?  Writing in the 7th century in his Ascetical Treatises, Isaac of Syria writes “Do not say that God is just. . . . He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked (Luke 6:35). How can you call God just when you read the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt 20:1-16) . . . or when you read the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-31) . . .  Where is God’s justice? Here is the fact that while we were sinners Christ died for us (Rom 5:8).”  When we are called to forgive others, is this the standard to which we are held?  

Dinner at 6. Menu is ham and collard pot pie. Discussion around 6:45.  Hope to see you here.

Programming Note: Next week we will be looking at the doxology to the Prayer and will be reviewing the Lord’s Prayer as a whole because in dissecting each word, we sometimes lose the forest for the trees.  The following week (September 15), we will begin reading through the Gospel of Mark.  If we haven’t seen you for the summer, please rejoin us then. 

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you. 

Matthew 5:38-42

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