Forgiven, We Forgive
Luke 23:33-34/Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
What if Jesus had cursed His enemies from the cross, rather than seek their forgiveness by the Father? Jesus had every right to curse His captors, for they had dared to crucify the Son of God. What if Jesus had taught us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses,” and then advised us, “but do not ‘go soft’ and forgive those who deliberately trespass against You?” And yet, is that not the way we sometimes pray this prayer? We have been willing, even anxious, to have the Father’s forgiveness, but not nearly as willing or anxious to forgive those who have hurt us. Instead, Jesus startled His enemies and the whole world as, on the cross, His first words were words of absolution: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” As always, Jesus practiced what He preached. He prayed as He had taught. And so He taught us to pray: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Once again, we see the Lord’s Prayer active in our Lord’s Passion; we see our redemption in action and in application. We learn and pray that, having been forgiven, we will forgive.
We need forgiveness as much and as frequently as we need our daily bread. Every man who needs to pray for daily bread needs also to pray for daily forgiveness, because that great mountain of our sins bearing down upon us is as suffocating to our lives as hunger is damaging to our bodies. That is precisely what our Lord meant when He answered Satan, in the midst of His own temptation: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” These two petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are inseparably bound together by the little word “and”: “Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We need forgiveness because of what we owe God. Call them trespasses; call them debts, as some translations do. They are really the same thing. The point is, they all cry out for payment, satisfaction, and forgiveness before God.
If we were to list all the sins for which we need forgiveness, there would literally be no end to them. But comparing the Lord’s Prayer to the Lord’s Passion helps to focus our attention on sin as an individual thing. It is of absolute necessity for us to know that the accusing finger of God points to each of us, one at a time, scratching away the veneer we build around our lives, and saying to us, as Nathan the prophet said to David, “Thou art the man!” Our sins stand like a huge wall between God and us. As Isaiah said: “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.” It is like the husband and wife who have had a serious “falling out” with each other. Reconciliation can never take place until there has been forgiveness borne of love. We need that kind of forgiveness from God.
And that is the very forgiveness He offers us. The essence of God’s nature is love. And His love has taken concrete form in Jesus Christ and all He has done to save us. “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all,” Isaiah said. In the same manner, St. Paul said: “He made (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” In Christ, the wall of separation is broken down; the path to God is straightened out; the debt of our guilt is paid in full. Our heavenly Father has accepted His own Son’s perfect life and sacrificial death in place of our imperfect life, and has spared us from the horrors of eternal death. The cross of Jesus has been laid across the yawning chasm that separates us from God. As we pray for forgiveness, it is this that guarantees our plea will be heard and answered favorably.
But our Savior taught us also to add these words, “…as we forgive those who trespass against us.” As the forgiven children of God it is simply a matter of course that we will, in turn, forgive others. When we pray this petition in the fullness of its meaning, we are not only seeking forgiveness for ourselves but also the grace and power to forgive those who have sinned against us. This petition places a profound responsibility on our shoulders; we should not seek God’s forgiveness for ourselves unless we are prepared to forgive others.
And yet, that is about the hardest thing in the world to do. Our Lord knew that we would go on sinning and being sinned against. And we know that often we would much rather curse than forgive someone who has sinned against us. It is much more enjoyable to nurse a grudge, to keep score over against a husband’s or wife’s faults, to rub it in, to be a little spiteful, to find ways to get even. Our Lord Jesus Christ not only died for these spiteful characteristics of our sinful nature. He even prayed for the forgiveness of His worst enemies: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And this is the way we can pray this prayer: Instead of magnifying our neighbor’s sins against us and condemning him for them, we can forgive Him through Christ.
You may shake your head and say: “But I just cannot find it in me to overlook the terrible hurt someone has brought on me. I just can’t find it in me to forgive that easily.” Of course you can’t! But Christ within you can. By redeeming you and forgiving you, He has made a new creature of you. In Holy Baptism, He has made you able to see things as He sees them. Now, you can pray: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Forgiven children will forgive; this is His message to us. And as He forgives and cleanses us by the power of His Word and Sacraments, He gives us the same power to be forgiving.
We remember Jesus praying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And because He did, we can pray just as earnestly: “Father…forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And our prayer is answered for the sake of Jesus Christ. Forgiven, we will forgive. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.