The Lord’s Prayer (7): Unconditional Forgiveness?
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. Matthew 6:12
The master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant', he said, 'I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' Matthew 18:32-33
I sometimes think of this parable when driving the car. As I come up to a main road, an approaching driver slows down and beckons me out into the traffic. I acknowledge his kindness and drive on. A moment later, I see another car waiting to come out of a side turning, but, before my conscience smites me, I drive on. I have benefitted from someone else's graciousness, but failed to be gracious in my turn.
Which brings me to the parable. A servant - or perhaps a steward - owes a king millions of pounds. By an extraordinary act of generosity his debt is cancelled. But he, in his turn, refuses to have mercy on a junior servant who owes him a fiver.
The focus of the parable is our need to forgive others. The focus in the Lord's prayer is our need to be forgiven. The huge contrast between the two debts in the parable reminds us of the vastness of human sin, the offence of which could only be atoned for with the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:19).
The concept of 'sin' may be hard to define, but we are helped by two much more graphic words which are sometimes used in translations of the Lord's prayer: 'trespass' and 'debt'. Both of these refer to a wrong done to someone else - the one whose boundaries have been crossed and the one to whom an obligation is owed. The Creator placed boundaries on human behaviour, and throughout history we have claimed for ourselves - in things large and small - power and autonomy that belong to God alone. And what do we owe him? 'My soul, my life, my all.' Sin is a direct offence against God.
How readily, in our relaxed society, I condone thoughts and actions of mine that are offensive to God. It's not only daily bread that we need, but daily forgiveness. But to receive God's forgiveness we need the generosity of spirit to forgive those - at home, at work - who have crossed our boundaries or wronged us in various ways. Recipients of mercy show mercy to others.
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