Forgiving and Being Forgiven

“And forgive us our sins” (Luke 11:4)

Some of us, in the wake of having been wronged by another person, have thought or even uttered the words “I can forgive, but I can’t forget.” What that usually means, however, is, “I can’t forgive.” Forgiving others is hard to do. How comforting it is for us to have assurance that God’s forgiveness of each of us personally is without condition.

It’s easy to find in the scriptures any number of passages that seem to support the notion that God always forgives us no matter how we treat other people. Today’s reading from Genesis is a case in point. Abraham questions the Lord about the impending judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah. “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” Abraham asks, “Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it?” (18:22-24). The Lord answers that he will not, but will rather forgive. “Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there” (18:22).

The pedantic encounter continues until Abraham finally proposes, “Suppose ten [righteous ones] are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it” (18:32). Since we all see ourselves as the righteous ones in this passage, none of us has any worries whatsoever. And we’re even saving others through our righteousness!

In today’s gospel, Jesus teaches the disciples some principles of prayer. Be persistent, he counsels: “at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.” “Ask, and it will be given you.” “For everyone who asks receives” (11:8-10).

What does Jesus teach us to pray for? The answer is humbling for us. “And forgive us our sins,” he urges, “[just as] we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us” (11:4). Or to put it into even simpler English, “Forgive us our sins, [just as) we forgive everyone who does us wrong” (Good News Translation). In other words, “God, use the same standards in judging me that I use in judging those around me.”

Most of us do pray this with persistence. And to the extent that Jesus is right when he says, “[a]sk, and it will be given you,” we’re all called to do some serious soul searching.

Look It Up

A well-known parable about forgiveness is found in Matthew 18:21-35. What challenge does Jesus’ story present to us?

Think About It

In what ways does our treatment of others affect our relationship with God?

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