21 August 2013

Today's Catechesis on the Fifth Petition of the Our Father

Text: Matthew 18:21ff.

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
What does this mean?  We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them.  We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment.  So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Let’s face the hard bit first: the “as” scares you. And well it might. There are those who would imply to you that Jesus did not mean what He said when He concluded today’s parable with the words: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” But there simply IS no way around those words. He meant what He said and He said what He meant. If there is one thing that the Scriptures are clear on it is that those who hold onto their grudges, their anger, their hatred and refuse to forgive WILL NOT be forgiven; they have forfeited the gift that was given to them.

And yet you want to rationalize. You want to say: “Oh, but you don’t know how much I’ve suffered.” I do not dispute for one second the very real evils that may have endured from the hands of those from whom you had every right to expect better. But here’s a truth, people loved by God, if you hang onto that bitterness and let it grow, it shall take over your entire life. You will find yourself not only being bitter about the big things you’ve suffered, but your life full of resentment over all kinds of absolutely petty and ridiculous circumstances. And similarly, when you are able to forgive the biggies in your life, then the small things become no fodder for brooding or anger.

The hard but shining truth is this: as hard as you might find it to forgive, it is actually harder and requires vastly more energy to hang on to a wrong, real or perceived, intended of unintended. The Lord’s way IS the natural way, that is the way that you were meant to go, and so the Lord’s path of forgiveness, though it is indeed steep and narrow and few bother to tread it, is the path that you were intended to travel all along, and the further you tread and the higher you climb the more you will rejoice in the bracing air of divine forgiveness flowing into you and out of you.

And I don’t suppose that you are different from me. I struggle not so much in the initial act of forgiving. But then later, when you replay the whole scene again, maybe at night in the dark in bed, and the anger and bitterness they rise up afresh. And you wonder and fear: Have I really forgiven them? Such is the reality of our sinful nature. It will continually seek to sow these seeds of bitterness and resentment in our lives.

But here we come to what was the most amazing “aha” that Luther had about this petition of the Our Father. He sees it the exact opposite way that we are tempted to see it by nature. He sees it as a sacrament! A seal of forgiveness! You see, when your brother wrongs you and you forgive him, OR when you remember the wrong your brother has done you, and you immediately turn in prayer to your Father in heaven and pray: “O Lord, please forgive him for that, and bless him and bestow on him every good and perfect gift through Christ my Lord” – Luther says that praying that prayer is just like receiving the Eucharist. For you know that when you forgive, you have the assurance that you have been forgiven by God. NOT that your forgiveness CAUSED God’s forgiveness, but that as sure as the Lord Jesus has suffered and died to blot out the world’s sin and yours, so His forgiveness of you is the cause of you forgiving others.

And it’s no surprise that he teaches us all of this in the context of prayer. Because you do not have the strength to do this on your own. As we’re about to sing: “But you alone can grant us grace to mean the words we say.” So here is your challenge for today, people loved by God: watch for the opportunities to forgive that God will shower on you day by day. Each is a gift, a little Eucharist, a renewal of Baptism, in which you can receive and rejoice daily in the forgiveness of your sins! Pray for God’s richest blessings on those who offend you and especially when you remember the offenses done you, and you will rejoice in the overflowing forgiveness of Him whose death atoned for all of those sins and also for all of your own, and then you will not fear the “as” in the Lord’s Prayer. It will become your great joy. Amen.

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