Tag Archives: Debtors

The Sermon, part 18: Forgiveness

Read Matthew 6:14-15

Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.” (Luke 17:4, NLT)

unidos-en-la-fe-imagenes-cristianas-con-la-cruzAs was mentioned in the previous devotion, Jesus sets the model for how we should pray. Included in that model is the act of forgiveness. “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” Jesus prayed. Debts, obviously, is a term that indicates finances are involved. Those of us who have ever taken out a loan, or borrowed from a friend, are all too familiar with what a debt is. Similarly, those of us who have loaned stuff out and waited for it to be paid back, know what it means to have debtors beholden to us.

I think it is important that we look at Jesus’ words in the Lord’s Prayer, so that we can best contextualize them as well as understand the words that follow them. In the prayer, Jesus prays that God forgives our “debts” (ὀφείλημα, pronounced of-i’-lay-mah) just as we forgive our “debtors” (ὀφειλέτης, pronounced of-i-let’-ace). The Greek word for debt means “something that is owed”. With that said, the word is not so black and white, as it can also mean a sin or a moral fault. In other words, debt (ὀφείλημα) can be taken in both the literal sense of one owing someone money or property, and it can be taken in the spiritual sense of one owing God reparation for his or her sins.

There are some that want to merely see sins in this verse, and there are some Bible translations that choose to interpret this verse as “sins”; however, it is important to point out that in doing so, these translators are taking a stance that matches their theology as to what Jesus is saying here. So, if one sees Jesus’ primary mission as saving people from their sins, he or she will translate this word as “sins”. Conversely, if a translator sees Jesus’ primary mission as standing in solidarity with and liberating the oppressed (including impoverished people who are in debt to those oppressing them), then he or she will translate this word as “debts”.

Both positions, as I see it, are gravely mistaken because they both fail to see the poetic subtlety in Jesus’ words. How do we know this for sure? Because in verses 12-13, Jesus chooses a word that explicitly means debts (though, more subtly, it could mean sins); however, in verse 14-15, Jesus uses a word that explicitly means sins. The use of the two words in reference to forgiveness tells us that Jesus doesn’t see this as an “either/or”, but a “both/and”.

Jesus’ mission was both to save people from their sins, and it was to stand in solidarity with and liberate the poor. The two missions are not mutually exclusive of each other; rather, they are an intertwined and connected purpose with in the same mission. Salvation from sin equals a liberation of the poor and the oppressed, for sin is what leads to the evil of oppression and abject poverty.  If people didn’t sin, they would oppress others, nor would they hold people indebted to them to the point of impoverishment.

What’s more, without sin people wouldn’t have the corrupt notion of “owning” property and goods for everything that we possess is, theologically speaking, given to us from God. That is why the early church members gave all of their belongings to the whole community, to be shared in equally with each other for the good of the whole community. These earliest Christians were making The Lord’s Prayer a lived reality in their communities. And this is what we are called to do as well.

Jesus couldn’t be any clearer, if we forgive those who sin against us (spiritually or physically), then we are in line with God’s forgiveness and will receive it; however, if we harden our hearts to forgiving others, then we are not in line with God’s forgiveness and we have hardened our hearts to the forgiveness God wishes to give to us. Hardened hearts will not receive forgiveness because they refuse to, just as surely as hardened hearts refuse to forgive. So here’s the key truth for us to reflect on: FORGIVENESS IS THE KEY TO BEING CHRISTIAN.

To offer forgiveness is to show thankfulness to the infinite times God has forgiven you. Happy Thanksgiving!

Lord, thank you for your forgiveness. Help me to forgive. Amen.