Jesus says that we are to ask God to forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Unless, of course, he says that we are to ask God to forgive our trespasses.
That used to be the clear way to distinguish between low church and high church, by whether we say “debts” or “trespasses”. And, ironically, in the struggle to decide which to say, many people were reminded of the difficulties between debtors and those who trespass against us.
And in the middle of this prayer, while asking for forgiveness, we remember why we need it so much.
Jesus says that there is some relationship between our asking God for forgiveness and us forgiving other people. We are to ask for forgiveness and, it seems, tell God to forgive us in the same way–as–we forgive others.
I once heard someone say that we expect people to respond the way we would respond. We use our motives to assess their motives. Thus, people who cheat assume that everyone would cheat. People who don’t take anything seriously assume that everyone is that flexible.
People who choose to hold back forgiveness will assume that God is that way, too.
“I forgive them but I’m watching closely for them to mess us again.”
“I forgive them but I’m keeping track.”
Notice a very careful word choice.
Many people struggle to forgive people who have intentionally hurt them deeply. “I’m trying to forgive, but it’s hard,” they say. And then they worry about how this passage, worry that unless they forgive, they will be punished, but not knowing how to forgive.
It’s for us that this prayer exists.
Though he links the two conditionally, he first allows us to ask for forgiveness. As we remember his forgiveness, forgiving becomes easier.
Not easy, but possible.