Jesus said to his disciples, ‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
‘Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
‘For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.’
… if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Today we have heard Matthew’s account of Jesus’ great gift of The Lord’s Prayer. In so few words Jesus shows us how to worship, hope, intercede, confess and pray for deliverance. The Lord’s Prayer embodies the way in which we need to speak to God in the knowledge that our Father knows what [we] need before [we] ask him. The piling up of pious phrases, sometimes in archaic language, is both unnecessary and counter-productive. Our Father in heaven knows our joys and our sorrows, our needs and our desires, he does not need us to try and justify ourselves in empty phrases.
So … having acknowledged Jesus’ teaching on a more conversational and natural approach in our prayer life, we need to consider the biggest issue of all. After the expressions of worship and hope, and after we have laid our intercessions before God, we come to the issue of forgiveness. In the translation we heard today we heard of debts. Other translations speak of trespasses and sins. The use of the word debt should not lead us down the blind alley of imagining that this issue of forgiveness revolves solely around material issues such as money and other worldly possessions. This teaching runs much deeper than that. Jesus is speaking of our capacity to understand that all are made in the image of God, and yet all are capable of getting things wrong. Once we have grasped that fact we also need to go further and come to the understanding that we are just the same.
Human beings are fallible creatures … yes, all human beings … even us. We all trespass where we should not in our relationships with others. We all sin by setting ourselves against the teachings and laws of God. We all pile up debts as we abuse and exploit others in our quest to be seen as successful. We are all in need of God’s forgiveness. And then, we need to take that necessary step towards being Christ-like in our daily lives … we need to forgive others, all of them!
This one moment in The Lord’s Prayer is possibly the most challenging reminder of how Jesus taught us to live out our lives in this world. We should acknowledge that we are sinful, and we should ask our heavenly Father to forgive the sins we have committed. But, in order that we might prove our worthiness of that divine forgiveness, we need to forgive others.
Let us pray for the strength to forgive others their sins, trespasses and debts against us as we strive towards the certainty of God’s loving forgiveness in our lives.