“Forgive us our debts,” oops, sorry. Breathe in, breathe out. “Forgive us our sins,” ugh, not again! Okay, okay. Breathe in, breathe out. “Forgive us our trespasses,” right? Here is the muddled part of The Lord’s Prayer. My guess is that everybody has an opinion on whether it should be debts, sins, or trespasses. I know some people are really insistent on one or the other. Breathe in, breathe out, People!
If you would have asked me a decade ago, I would have been clueless on the controversy. I would be lucky to even be able to recite the prayer without mistakes! A year ago, I would have been pro-debts…and I would have defended that one because it’s written that way in the Bible! (I don’t know what I would have done if someone would have said it is written as ‘debts’ in Matthew and ‘sins’ in Luke.) And after looking at it all this week…well, I would say, “Breathe in, breathe out. Focus on your core breathing.”
Here is something really cool I learned about the ‘debts’ used in Matthew. Most of us would think that Jesus used the word ‘debts’ in a symbolic way like, “Because of our sinful transgression, we have a moral debt to God.” And that is true. Jesus did use it in that way. But, Jesus, always the multi-angled guy, also meant it literally.
Thirty years after Jesus’ debts, when the Jewish People rebelled against their Roman rulers and their turncoat, Jewish collaborators, the People stormed the Temple, the first thing they did was… burn the record of debts. God’s people were burdened with debt—the rich got richer at the expense of the poor.
Debt was both spiritual and physical. In the book of Leviticus, there is a command from God that is to take place after seven cycles of seven years: Jubilee. It is when the debtors are to forgive the debts of the indebted. Financial freedom.
Jesus proclaimed Jubilee at the very beginning of his ministry: the Year of the Lord’s Favor: The Kingdom of God: the Feast of the Lord. All these are images and catch phrases of God saying that, “I’m here to stay; things will now be different. Let’s celebrate!” Breathe in, breathe out. Don’t get too excited, now.
And let’s look at the core of this line: forgiveness. We can debate over ‘debts,’ ‘sins,’ and ‘trespasses’ all we want, but the core here is the verb, the action, of forgiving. God forgives…we forgive.
Let’s look at how serious God is about forgiveness. Let’s look at Matthew 18:21-35. If this is all that we talked about today…um, I’ve got some bad news for us. “From your heart?!” God won’t be forgiving anybody. Breathe in, breathe out.
If we were to take an honest inventory of our hearts, we have a lot of forgiveness issues to deal with…unless I’m the only wretch in the room, city, nation, world. How often do I deep a record of wrongs? How often do I lie to myself and others and say an offense is not a big deal? How often do I close my eyes? How long will I slumber?
Thank you, Father, that You are not in the quid pro quo business—it is not true that we only receive forgiveness if we forgive others. But let it not be that we miss the lesson. We have been forgiven! We are to forgive! Breathe in! Breathe out! Breathe in forgiveness! Breathe out forgiveness!
The early church struggled with the same struggles we have. It is so easy to receive God’s forgiveness…but so hard to extend real forgiveness to someone else… everyone else. God’s forgiveness is our breath of life…new life…eternal life. Yet, if all I do is breath in and never breath out…I die. To be a part of the Kingdom of God in the Jubilee Year and attend the Feast of the Lord…I’ve got to not only breathe it in…I’ve got to breathe it out as well.
Forgiveness is a hard subject. We have to acknowledge the depth of the wrongs done to us—some of them are truly horrible. I have no interest in trivializing them. But we also have to acknowledge the power of God’s ability to forgive that horror…to extend healing to an area of brokenness…to repair lives and relationships.
And we don’t do this alone. Jesus for sure knows…he was the one who took all that horror and took responsibility for it…to pay those debts…that with his last breath, he prayed for all to be forgiven.
How is your breathing? I know I need to do better.
When I was in high school, I would be running and start to get tingly and light-headed. My coach said that it was because I was taking in plenty of air, but not exhaling as much as I took in. I became more conscious of my breathing, striving for equal breaths. It worked. It wasn’t rocket science. But I did have to become aware, and then focused, in order to run the race better.
How’s your race going? You are in a race, right? How are you breathing? Breathe in! Breathe out! Breathe in forgiveness! Breathe out forgiveness!
Some of us will veer off toward debts, some sins, and some trespasses. But it will always come back to forgiveness. To really forgive as we have been really forgiven. It is a part of our new DNA. It should come as easily as breathing.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Amen.