Every day in our prayers we ask for forgiveness of our sins. We confess them before God as they weigh heavy on our hearts. How often do we pray for the ability to forgive others? The fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer pairs these two together and puts an emphasis on the importance of each one.
In Matthew 18 we read the Parable of the two debtors. It is a very familiar parable to us all about a servant who was forgiven an unpayable amount of debt he owed to his master. After the servant was forgiven this debt, he went to his fellow servant who had borrowed a minuscule amount of money, and had him cast into prison until he would pay the debt. We read this passage with disgust and we can hardly believe the cruelty of this man. How dare he refuse to forgive this man after he had just been forgiven of an unimaginable amount of debt!
“And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt” (Matt. 18: 29, 30).
We read this passage with disgust, yet we are that servant. Every time we sin we add and we add to our collection of debt against God, and it has built up to an unpayable amount. We are the man who owes money to his master, and to make it even worse, we refuse to forgive our neighbour just as he did. Every time we hold a grudge and refuse to forgive our neighbour (at times even our closest friends), we are STILL that man who is trampling his friend into poverty. The hate and anger that builds up in our hearts that quite often lasts days and weeks is our way of disobeying the fifth petition. This fifth petition is part of the beautiful prayer given to us from Jesus, and we repeatedly pray over and over again.
“As we forgive our debtors.” Jesus directs us to pray this. He instructs us to pray this because he knows our sins, and he knows how hard it is for us to forgive! So often we dwell on a small incident, and as our anger builds up, we drive farther and farther away from God’s command to forgive those who sin against us. Forgiveness takes prayer, takes patience, takes love, and takes selflessness. To forgive we must turn our hearts from anger, bitterness, and hurt. But forgiveness goes against our human nature. We don’t want to forgive! Out of our obedience to God we must have faith and pray for Christ to work that forgiveness in our heart. We must forgive our debtors. Only those who forgive, may be expected to be forgiven from God.
“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:14,15).
Yet our story has a different ending.
“And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.” (Matt. 18:34).
This story is a parable of earthly men, and the poor fellow servant is cast into prison. It is here that we must be fully aware of God’s unfailing mercy. The debts that we build up before God, we are not able to pay and we never will be. God knows this, which is why he sent his Son to pay for them. He does not cast us into the depths of hell, but he promises us eternal glory. And as the Lord continues to forgive our repeated sins as we confess them before him, he will also continue to give us the strength to forgive our debtors.
Please forgive all of our sins, Lord, and help us to forgive others.