The Church continues to work through the Sermon on the Mount these days after Pentecost. Today, Jesus provides us with the version of the Our Father or Lord’s Prayer in common use today by Christians the world over (Mt 6:7-15).
What always strikes me (and troubles me) is that at the end of the prayer, Jesus presses the point “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” by repeating it in stronger and more detailed language. Now, anyone seriously meditating upon the Lord’s Prayer knows that one can spend minutes, hours, days, weeks (really, a lifetime) contemplating every line, every phrase, even many of the individual words in this prayer. It is very revealing that Jesus chooses to emphasize forgiveness and the consequences to a person depending on how he handles this virtue. The Lord knows us better than we know ourselves. He wants to make sure His hearers don’t overlook it our bypass it. It is very easy to miss this injunction of the prayer even though many Christians have prayed it countless times. Maybe this happens because we’ve said it so many times that it has become too familiar. Or maybe selective hearing causes us to mentally check out when these words are presented to us.
Why am I (and I suspect many others) troubled by Jesus exhortation on forgiveness? Because it is hard. Very hard. When we have been deeply hurt in some way, especially by persons close to us who we trusted, forgiveness does not come easy. In fact, a certain “comfort” may be derived by keeping the fires of anger stoked. This is not the way of the Lord, though. In His most difficult, desperate, painful, and desolate moment on the Cross He forgave everyone who took part in His death (that means me and you, too). God’s magnanimity in such a circumstance, one which few are likely ever to face, is the way we must follow. The payoff is eternal happiness. Die with a heart hardened and unrepentant and we separate ourselves from God — we spit on His offer to forgive our many sins, despise His mercy, and put ourselves permanently out of His presence because we prefer to stew in our own pride and obstinacy. Is God a God of mercy? Of course. But we are free to reject it. So, let us show mercy as we hope to receive it from others and from the Almighty.