Matthew 6:12- And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Forgiveness is almost always a difficult topic—regardless of who is bringing it up or of why it is that they might be doing so—and Jesus is no exception to the rule. What does it mean to ask God to forgive us as we forgive others? Does that mean that we have to forgive everyone? Even the people who don’t deserve our forgiveness—the people who have used and abused us and made our lives terrible? And what if we don’t forgive? Does that mean that God won’t forgive us? What about grace? This petition sounds nice—especially when coded in prayer language—but man, does it open up a can of worms!
I can’t help but to wonder, though, if these are the wrong questions. Certainly, we aren’t in the wrong for asking them. From both practical and theological perspectives, it is important to think about these sorts of things. If we are to mean these words when we pray them, then we should give a thought to how we might handle difficult situations with difficult people, and what we believe to be true about God’s love and faithfulness. But given that Jesus has inserted this lesson about prayer smack dab in the middle of His Sermon on the Mount—a long discourse about how the Kingdom of Heaven has come near and what that means—it seems probable that this prayer would have something to do with that topic, too. The other stuff matters, but in this context, not quite as much as learning how God’s new world is ordered, and how a person who wants to be a part of that new world should live. So, then, what if Jesus is making a deeper point? What if—in teaching us to pray these words—Jesus is inviting us to use our imaginations? What if Jesus is asking us who we would be if we were free? What if He is asking us what sort of a world we would want to help create if our slates were wiped clean?
This is, after all, what forgiveness means. Because it is not always very pretty, and because it is a huge part of our day-to-day lives, I think that we sometimes forget how powerful forgiveness is. Forgiveness is not merely accepting an apology, but rather, a cutting loose. When we forgive, we let those who needed our forgiveness off the hook. We sever the chains that are keeping them in bondage and release them to give life another shot. The same thing happens when we are forgiven—whether that forgiveness comes from God, or from other people. The sin and death that has been sitting our chests is pushed off, and with it goes the cycles of shame, shortsightedness, and defeated attitudes. Forgiveness is what enables us to truly live. It is the tool through which God is saving and redeeming the world. Forgiveness liberates, heals, mends, and erases.
Of course, like with anything that has to do with God, freedom is not where it stops. God doesn’t set us free and then disappear and never talk to us again. We are delivered for a purpose. We are delivered for love and for peace and for wholeness and for the whole shebang, which brings us right back around to that invitation. How do you wish to use your grace? What kind of a resurrected person do you want to be? What is God’s wildest dream for the world, and how would you like to be in on that? Who do you want to be?
Personally, I want to be a peacemaker. I want to be a soft place to land, and a person who doesn’t shy away from the pain of others. Perhaps you want to pursue God’s justice. Or maybe you want to be a prayer warrior. Or perhaps, a person who cares for Creation, or a person who is generous, or a person who is something else entirely. Or maybe you don’t know yet. And that’s okay, too. What matters is that we take that first step—that we dare to ask God who He is inviting us to be, and that we dare to trust that God’s redemption is possible. That forgiveness really is saving the world. If we seek the Kingdom of God and its righteousness, God will show us the rest of the way.
Dream big, Friends. Grab onto your forgiveness. And may we joyfully come alongside God to bring the reality of God’s kingdom into fruition with that freedom.
Hannah Lutz is the pastor at Ada Chapel Friends Meeting in Wilmington.