Forgive us… as we forgive those…
Here, let me bring us back to the “Jewish-ness” of the context. In this kingdom prayer the Messiah, Jesus, Who has come bringing the kingdom and leading His people out of exile. But the cause of exile was sin. The nation of Israel was sent into exile due to sin; mankind was exiled from the garden of Eden because of sin. So for the Messiah to lead people out of exile, He must deal with the root of their exile – sin. So as Jesus begins to embark on the theme of forgiveness, we are reminded of just how necessary forgiveness really is to the kingdom. We’ll see a bit later how we should be a people characterized by forgiveness (as Jesus tells us to tie our forgiving others to His forgiving us). First, I want to look at a story Jesus told as a word picture of forgiveness and the kingdom of God.
Luke 15:11-32 accounts for us the parable often known as the story of the Prodigal Son. Yet the emphasis in the story, taking the circumstances the prompted it’s telling (vs. 1-2), are really on the Father. The surrounding Jews were wondering how on earth Jesus could sit ad eat with such vile and wretched sinners. Jesus tells them exactly how in a parable. The son essentially tells his father that he wishes he were dead by requesting his half of the inheritance while the father is still alive. The father gives the son his wish, and the boy runs off and wastes it in a life of evil. Stooping so low as to feed pigs (really really bad for a Jew), wishing he could eat their food, but not allowed to, he decided to go back to his dad and ask forgiveness requesting to be made a slave. Before he ever reached the property, the Father ran and hugged and kissed him – forgiving him. The elder brother who stayed at home was jealous of the forgiven brother (the elder brother being indicative of the attidue of the Jews asking the question in vs 1-2). Now the point that is so amazing in this story is that the father RAN to meet the wayward son. In that culture, men of dignity didn’t run anywhere. For them to run was disgraceful! When this father ran to meet his prodigal son, he threw his dignity out the window. Talk about going great lengths to forgive! We see this very concept made reality for us in Jesus Christ. Paul tells us in Philippians 2:5-8
“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
This is how we have been forgiven! This is how forgiveness works in God’s Kingdom!
Then Jesus tells us to pray, not only “Father, forgive us”, but “even as we forgive those who trespass against us”. He isn’t insinuating that we earn God’s forgiveness, that somehow we’re asking God to forgive us by the same rule we forgive others. No. He’s teaching us to commit to forgiving others just as we have been forgiven. For a child of God to refuse to forgive is to show they haven’t understood their own forgiveness; or maybe they haven’t even really experienced it, as they aren’t really one of His. In praying this prayer we are inextricably binding our selves to imaging God to others. We are asking God to forgive our sins, our failures, and promising to in-turn do the same to others.
When wronged, God’s children should be itching to forgive. When confronting the lost, living in sin, we should have hands outstretched full of God’s forgiveness in Christ Jesus. Too often, though, we stand afar off, looking at the wayward refusing to eat with them. Refusing to preach the kingdom to them unless they look a bit more presentable and come sit in our church pew. The tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to hear what he was saying (maybe they would believe, maybe not) but He welcomed them, He ate with them. The “non-worldly” Pharisees and scribes were horrified that Jesus would do such a thing. He tells them a story of forgiveness, and in that story invites them to come and dine with Him. Like the eldest in the parable, they refused, but forgiveness was there none the less. The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of forgiveness – go and be kingdom bearers.