Forgiving our trespasses

Published 9:14 pm Thursday, May 3, 2018

By Myrtle Virginia Thompson

We understand the meaning of a “No Trespassing” sign. We are going onto someone else’s property; stepping over a boundary line without permission; a violation; an intrusion; a misdeed; infringing on another’s property rights. So what is Jesus talking about in the prayer He taught His disciples that most church goers repeat weekly?

Jesus told them to pray “Forgive us our trespasses in the same way we forgive others.”(Some translations read debts or sins aswe forgiveothers.) He was talking about the man/God relationship. He said much more about prayer, but many people know only this part. I am left to ask, “How are forgiveness and trespassing related?”What meaning does saying the Lord’s Prayer carry for me personally? How should I respond to what Jesus said? Jesus’ words can leave us with an uncomfortable feeling, because they are eternal truth. We need to take them seriously. They involve actions. What does forgiveness do for us? What if I am not forgiving? What if I say “I can forgive, but I can’t forget”? Is that good enough for God? For me? Why do we need forgiveness when we are also asking for our daily bread?

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I thought of the tree branch that was damaged by a storm. It had been left hanging, enough wind to break it from the trunk but not enough wind to take it down. It had not been removed. The tree is no longer beautiful. It could cause harm to an innocent passerby. In a symbolic sense, an unforgiving attitude is like allowing a “broken branch” that hangs in our minds. It can cause a problem for ourselves as well as for others.

I could not escape thinking about Jesus’ teaching at the beginning of His ministry (Matthew 6 and Luke 6) “If you forgive not others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

The Psalmist prayed, “Cleanse me from secret faults…” (Psalm 19). In Matthew 12, Jesus was severely rebuking the Pharisees. He told them on the outside they appear to people around them as righteous, but inside they were full of hypocrisy and wickedness. He uses symbolism, a cup or a bowl, to remind the people of the need to cleanse the inside — hearts, minds and thoughts. In the same discourse, he also uses humor. He said their words and actions were like straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel.

James said, “Cleanse your heart…” We need that cleansing when we pray the Lord’s Prayer. Like washing dirt off our hands, it will remove the ill feelings when we have been wrong or feel someone has wronged us. God works in clean hearts. He will hear our requests. 1 John 1:9 says “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us…”

Peter once asked Jesus how many times he needed to forgive someone, “until seven times seven?” Jesus’ answer was, “I say unto you… until seventy times seven,” 490 times (Matthew 18:21.) This large number probably left Peter in shock. We can forget only when we forgive and ask for God’s cleansing. If I am unwilling to forgive, why should I think God will forgive me? Paul reminds us we shall allappear before the judgment seat of Christ that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while on earth, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10) Ouch!

Myrtle Virginia Thompson is a Suffolk resident and former missionary. Email her at mvtgrt@gmail.com.