Gospel of Matthew 6: 7-15 (NIV)
7 “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’
14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
This passage from the Gospel of Matthew is, of course, the source of the prayer known throughout the world as “Our Father” or “Pater Noster”. We note that the Gospel of Luke also records a response from Jesus when his disciples asked him to teach them to pray (Luke 11: 2-4).
In this reflection I focus only on the verse that asks, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” In my experience, a willingness to forgive is in short supply in our society, sadly even among the Christian community.
Too often we read articles by journalists quoting individuals who claim: “I’ll never forgive him/her for what was done to that person,” or “I can never forgive the (race or nationality) for what they did during the war!” Regrettably such quotations are presented with evident approval as if such an attitude demonstrates resolve, determination and strength.
Yet Jesus makes it abundantly clear that, “if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (verses 14 and 15).
The Christian knows there is a sovereign Lord who is good and holy and just. The Apostle Paul referred to that in his letter to the church in Rome, quoting the Fifth Book of the Law, Deuteronomy, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12: 19).
Jesus was totally familiar with the burdens his own people faced, whether as a consequence of the barbarity of the occupying soldiers of Rome or from the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. He had experienced such hostility even in his own town, Nazareth. He understood resentment.
Jesus also knew that refusing to forgive leads to bitterness and hardness of heart in the person who has not forgiven.
To forgive requires a conscious effort and a humble heart, enabled by the Holy Spirit. If you find it difficult to forgive, remember the prayer Jesus taught us, “Our Father”, and recall Jesus’ words as he introduced it: “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him (verse 8). Be eager to ask God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, for help.