“Going into Debt Versus Trespassing Property: Forgive us Our Debts as We forgive our Debtors” 6-28-98 Matthew 5:23; 18:15-17; 23-35;
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A fellow who grew up in the Methodist Church but was about to join the Presbyterian Church referred to this part of the Lord’s prayer. He told me: “The one big change I see is that I’ve been trespassing all my life in the Methodist Church and now I have to go into debt to join the Presbyterian Church.” Why do we say debts and everyone else says trespasses, and what’s the difference? Most say the founder of the Episcopal/Anglican church, Thomas Cranmer, followed the Tyndale old English translation. The word debts (Greek: opheleimata) comes from Matthew 6:12- Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Trespasses (Paraptomai) come in verse 14- “For if you forgive their trespasses Your heavenly Father will forgive you yours.” Luke uses neither trespasses nor debtors but the word sins (amartia) which literally means missing the mark. The words “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” is found in the ecumenical version of this prayer on page 16 of our hymnal. They emphasize different things. Trespasses emphasizes that sin can be willful. Debts emphasizes that sin requires satisfaction. The major points are the same: we do wrong against God and we need His forgiveness; we also should forgive others just as we want to be forgiven. Perhaps some time in your life you have received a notice that says, “Insufficient funds” in big red letters. It is the same kind of feeling (Max Lucado says) that you get when you receive a notice that “The IRS will audit your account.” “I’m sorry, but a root canal is necessary.” Or, “Let’s stop dating and just be friends.” Insufficient funds. You are overdrawn. You spent too much. Guess who has to pay? It is not the bank— they didn’t write the check. Not the store, they didn’t make the purchase. Not your employer. Not your parents. No matter how many excuses you may make, you must come up with it. But what if you don’t have it? Perhaps your credit card limit is full. Perhaps you have had one medical disaster after another. 25.7 million of us are unemployed or underemployed. “You may pray that some wealthy soul will make a huge deposit into your account. If you’re talking about financial debt, that’s not likely to happen. If you’re talking about your spiritual debt, it already has.”
Oh we still try to make a few deposits of goodness into our spiritual account to try and balance things out. But how much goodness must we deposit to equal our terrible binges of evil? No matter how much we work, and how many deposits we try to make our spiritual checks still bounce pretty high. The good news we have one that took our debts and paid them. He took our “insufficient funds” and in its place said, “My grace is sufficient for you.” “He took our statement flowing with red ink and put his name at the top.” He has in place of our worthless checks given us a blank check. He assumed our debt. You assumed his fortune. In 2007 Merrill Lynch was about to go bankrupt, but BankAmerica stepped in and bought them out- preserved them, and gave them the capital and trust people needed.
He also paid your penalty. When you go into financial debt there is always a penalty. It may be a high interest rate. It may be a flat monthly charge you receive from the financial institution. If things are really bad, they may actually cancel your account. That would be the death of our account. The bad news is that our debts are so high with God that He ought to cancel our account. The good news is that instead of canceling our account He has paid it off. We deserve spiritual death. Instead of that, if we believe we shall have spiritual life.
It is interesting to note that when Jesus said, “It is finished” on the cross (John 19:30), he was using a financial term (tetelstai) that is used to make the final installment, the final payment. The debt is paid. God has paid it. It is complete, finished.
Now that you have been forgiven much; now that your debt is paid and you are given a fresh start, how does that effect the way you treat others? The parable of the forgiven servant tells the story. He was forgiven 12 million dollars, but he went out and strangled the person who owed him twenty bucks! Jesus would have us tie our forgiveness to the way we forgive others. To not forgive other people means we haven’t learned the importance of our own forgiveness. To not forgive others when we have been forgiven much means we have not realized how expensive our forgiveness is. We cheapen God’s forgiveness when we do not forgive others.
Besides that, not forgiving others hurts no one but ourselves. Bitterness gnaws at our stomachs and props our eyes awake at night. Holding grudges is like trying to hold your breath because you are mad, you may try to do it, but it is simply impossible to live with.
The Bible asks you, if you have something against your friend, leave worship and go and be reconciled. The Bible says if someone has something against you, go and find them and be reconciled. Who takes responsibility? It is not the other person— “He owes me an apology!” It is you. You are not to play the blaming game— “It was his fault.” Or, “It was her fault, and I’m not the one who needs to apologize.” The Bible says that each one of us is to take responsibility to get things right. Otherwise it will destroy us.
In 1983 the world was amazed that Pope John Paul II visited Mehmet Ali Agca, one who tried to assassinate him. For 21 minutes he went in and held the hand that had held the gun that gave him much pain. The Pope showed us it is possible. I have been reading a book about
Gracia Burnham, An American wrote a book, “In the Presence of Mine Enemies” about how her husband and her were missionaries to the Philippines and were captured by radical muslims (Abu Sayiff). They were tortured, threatened with beheading, shot at by their would-be-rescuers for over a year. Eventually Gracia’s husband, Martin was killed not long before she was rescued. She knew she was supposed to forgive her captors but she found herself often hating them. After some time- and time is important in forgiveness- she reached this conclusion: “What happened to Martin and me was no one’s fault except that of sinful human beings, the kind we came to the Philippines to help. I refuse to let their sin dampen my joy. No amount of pining will bring my husband back. I choose instead to rejoice in his memory.
The world plays the blame game. The world plays the grudge game- individually and collectively. In 1981 Queen Sofia of Spain refused to go to Charles and Diana’s wedding because of the 1704 taking of Gibraltar by the British. But she did go to Prince William’s wedding. The world says we have a right to be angry. But God calls us to not sin in our anger, and to be set free from the sins of the past- those we have done, and those others have done against us and God.
In the days of horse and carriages a bishop drove his wagon up to the church and parked. When he left, he unhooked his horse and tried to go, but the wagon wouldn’t move. Someone had piled the wagon full of rocks. He unloaded the rocks and was on his way. Twenty years later three men came to his door with hung heads. “Bishop, do you remember the day you tried to leave the church but had a wagon full of rocks? We were the ones…” The bishop laughed, “Do you mean to tell me, you were the ones carrying around those rocks all of these years! I threw them out twenty years ago and forgot about it!” Lord, give us grace to forgive us out debts because we have been forgiven so much!