Wednesday, July 25, 2007

(F) And Forgive Us Our Trespasses As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us

[And Forgive Us Our Trespasses ] As far as relationships are concerned, this is paramount. A common question is: "Should we forgive first, or seek forgiveness first?" A possible interpretation is that one must already have forgiven others before seeking forgiveness. Others indicate that it is first a forgiveness from the Lord. Yet it is also possible that this is a concurrent action. My interpretation is that we can only forgive as much as we are able to. What we are not able to forgive, we ask the Lord for help, willingly seeking God to empower us to forgive. This attitude of weakness, of willingness to forgive is a major attribute in prayer. A prayerful person is a forgiving person. A prayerless person often have problems forgiving others.

The word 'forgive' is a consistent verb in many English translations of Matthew 6:12. This verb (ἄφες) points to forgive, while the predicate nouns are translated in many different ways (our sins, our debts, our trespasses). It can be understood, that whatever offence we have done, whether intentional or unintentional, whether by thought, word or deed, we need to acknowledge we are in need of God's mercy. "In Your Mercies, Hear Our Prayers" ought to be a regular liturgical statement. In other words, whether they be sins others did against us, we forgive. Whether they be 'debts', we forgive them. Whether they be trespasses, an intrusion on our goodwill, we must be ready to forgive. The offences can be multidimensional, but the liberation via forgiveness is universal. Many problems, one solution. The complexities of many difficult relationships can be simplified with a simple act of forgiveness.

I believe that this prayer is best prayed by those who have already tried their best to forgive others, and still recognize that their best efforts are below God's standards. There is thus a two dimensional nature of forgiveness. If we have not forgiven others, how will we expect God to do likewise to us? In Matthew 6:13-14, the forgiveness theme is reiterated. Interestingly, this forgiveness is emphasized in both positive and negative terms after Matthew's rendition of the Lord's Prayer. This to me is an indication that any forgiveness or act of forgiveness must be done thoroughly, in mind, in word and in deed.

καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν,

[As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us] Our desire to want to receive forgiveness must be in step with our acts of forgiveness. To excuse, to pardon, to absolve, to free others from their bonds are all various forms of setting others free from any selfish grip. I remember a story of a monkey, who saw a jar of ripe berries. On reaching the jar, the primate soon learn that the only way to the berries was by opening the closed cap and stretching its hand through it. Suddenly, upon hearing footsteps, the monkey grabs a large handful of berries and with its fingers clenched together tries to pull its hand out. Alas, the neck of the jar was too narrow for a clenched fist to go through. Can the monkey have the berries and escape? Or should the monkey free itself by letting go of the berries? Deciding that the berries were too good to miss out, the monkey continues its futile effort to pull its clenched fist out. Eventually, the monkey was caught, trapped in its own greed. The only way out is to let go of the berries. This letting go of berries is like a person letting go of his debtors. How can anyone rightfully ask for forgiveness, if he himself is not forgiving of others? Isn't it hypocritical?

This analogy is typical of a person wanting to receive mercy from others and is trapped by his own lack of mercy towards others, like the story of the ungrateful servant. The words 'even as' is a good rendition, that implies a connectedness between the two acts. There are at least three characteristics of forgiveness. First, this connection shows us that forgiveness is three-ways: God, ourselves and others. Secondly, forgiveness, as far as we are concerned is not contingent on others forgiving us. We are not responsible for others to forgive us. We can forgive ourselves, and we can ask God to forgive us. However, whether others will forgive us or not, we do not have to be accountable for that. It is their prerogative, it is their initiative. It is their choice and we should not be held responsible if others refuse to forgive us. What we are responsible for, is to clear away the leaves of our own bitterness that camouflages the path to true authentic, forgiven paths of relationships. We must sweep away any pretenses that we are always right. If there is a slightest chance that we can forgive others, we must pounce on it. We should not feel encaged by people who insist on trapping us by not forgiving us. Once we have forgiven others, it is up to them, not us, to reciprocate. Thirdly, forgiveness is to be done daily, as often as we ask for our daily bread. God withholds our knowledge of all our sins so that we are given adequate time to recover from our earlier confessions. Like a person rowing a canoe upstream, the moment we stop praying is like the moment in which we stop paddling. When that happens, the waters of sin will wash our canoe and ourselves plunging down towards the valley of destruction. If on the other hand, we pray daily, not only will the canoe overcome the waters, it will progress a good distance up the river. The arms of the paddler will get strengthened from frequent exercise, the virtuous character of goodness is developed further. Finally, God gets glorified.

Forgiveness Is the mightiest sword
Forgiveness of those you fear, Is the highest reward
When they bruise you with words
When they make you feel small
When it's hardest to take
You must do nothing at all...
-- Jane Eyre.

"Forgiveness is God's invention for coming to terms with a world in which, despite their best intentions, people are unfair to each other and hurt each other deeply. He began by forgiving us. And he invites us all to forgive each other." (Lewis Smedes)

"To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you." (Philip Yancey)

We all need forgiveness, and it is God's grace to us, that we are not fully aware of all the forgiveness that we need at any one time. It can become so utterly humbling that we may feel too discouraged to live on. If we see all of our sins appearing before our eyes at the same time, we may throw up. Mercifully, God allows us to be aware of our sins, according to his mercies, and according to what we can tolerate at any one time. Like peeling an onion, as we peel off layer after layer of our manifold sins and weaknesses, (which we from time to time most greviously have committed,) let our tears of remembrance of our past acts, grieve us to repentance. With tears of beseeching others to forgive us, may we readily do the same. Let our lips be quick to apologize, our hearts be inclined to allow others the benefit of the doubt, and our knees to ask the Lord for mercy. Indeed, contrary to worldly ideas of strong, forgiveness is an act of strength, not weakness. Both the forgiving and being forgiven are to be asserted together, always.

ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀφίεμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν•

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