As many times as I have said the Lord’s Prayer out loud in unison at church…I realize now that too often I have just given lip service to the meaning of the prayer without truly understanding all the lines.
One line has never been clear to me, but I, also failed to take time to pursue it…“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” (We Presbyterians are “debtors: whereas several of our denominational brothers and sisters are “trespassers.”)
*If I had ever went to church with a friend (as a child) at another denominational church…I learned quickly to mute that part in fear of “debting” too loudly over the “trespassers” voices… united in unison.
When I ever gave that line much thought, it was placed in the category of mercantile debt…like a subtle hint from God to pay off all my credit cards and get out of debt before leaving our earthly home.
And then today…it suddenly hit me. We come into this world in debt to God for breathing life within us. We are already debtors before we put the first taste of water or bread in our mouths. Each day of our lives we become more entrenched in debt for the privilege of simply being alive and consuming what is needed to maintain it.
In one spiritual anecdote I read a few days back a little boy was asking his spiritual teacher for help about his fear of death. One quote from the teacher I recognized as my own “Aha” moment.
The teacher picked up a small piece of soil from the ground and said, “You have received your body in debt with required return. And every bite of bread eaten by you, every sip of water tasted by you increases that debt. You are made from dust on which you walk and the ground is your main creditor, constantly reminding you of this debt…until it is your time to lie down with it.”
The teacher concludes telling the little boy that death is as natural as birth and there should be no fear IF he shares his debts with as many fellowmen as he can along his life’s journey. Sharing is the secret to relieving ourselves of debt…the opportunity to exist, to live fully for others!
In Biblical study books and translations “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” focuses on the “Forgiveness” part of that line. Along these interpretations, most scholars agree that these two lines are the most serious of all…a warning to all of us about forgiveness.
Jesus explains this “terrible petition” (as Augustine called it) again at the close of the prayer in Matthew 6:14-15.
“For if you forgive others 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.”
This short anecdote explains it again in a very straight-forward example of a true incident.
When John Wesley was serving as a missionary to the American colonies, he had an encounter with General Oglethorpe, a man known for his pride. Wesley pleaded with him that he should forgive a man who was given a severe penalty for a minor infraction.
In a particularly prideful moment Oglethorpe said, “I never forgive!” Wesley replied, “Then I hope, for your sake sir, you never sin.” Wesley knew that if we make an unforgiving spirit a virtue, we cannot be forgiven.
So until tomorrow: “When you forgive, you free your soul. But when you say I’m sorry too, you free two souls.” (Donald Hicks)
“Today is my favorite day” Winnie the Pooh