Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors . . . (Matt. 6:12 ESV)
Last week was all about bread. Daily bread.
Jesus teaches us to be bold in asking for this (Luke 11:1-12). Asking for bread reminds us of our dependence and God’s faithfulness in providing. And yet, the bread we need on our tables points beyond itself to a deeper need. Jesus is the bread of life, and apart from him our needs and hungers are never truly met.
This week we turn our attention to the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer. In the prayer Jesus taught us to pray, the request for forgiveness is spoken immediately after the request for bread. What bread is to the body, forgiveness is to the soul.
We can’t live without bread. And we can’t live without forgiveness.
When it comes to bread, we know this is true. You need not live in some famine-stricken part of the world to know this. Even in a land of abundance, a few hours without bread will usually leave us looking for a snack. It doesn’t take long before we feel our lack; we sense what we interpret as a ‘need.’ No doubt about it, we need bread.
But forgiveness is a different matter. We go long stretches without seeking it. Some go a lifetime. We don’t necessarily feel that we need it. The lack of it doesn’t always register with us as an ache the way our hunger for bread does. Jesus, however, placed bread and forgiveness on equal footing.
Bread can keep us from dying. Forgiveness allows us to truly live.
Forgiveness Comes First
On one occasion Jesus was teaching to a packed house. Literally. The house where was teaching was packed and the crowd spilled into the yard. There was no room at the doors, no way to get in and find a seat, no seat to be had.
That’s when the roof came down. Again, literally. Four men had carried a paralyzed friend to see Jesus. They believed Jesus could heal, make lame legs strong. Finding no way into the house they went to the rooftop and started tearing a hole in it. They lowered their friend on his mat to the place where Jesus stood.
And when Jesus saw this paralyzed man and perceived the faith of his friends, Jesus said to him, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5).
Forgiveness came first.
Some very pious men were standing close enough to hear Jesus speak these words, and they were scandalized by what they heard, offended and angry. This Nazarene rabbi was claiming to do what only Go could do. Jesus perceived their anger and doubled down on what he had said. He did this by making the paralyzed man walk. When Jesus healed the man’s legs, he was doing so to prove another point, namely that he had authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:1-12).
This is not to say that forgiveness is more important than walking. The story does suggest however that walking is not living. Plenty of people can walk who need forgiveness.
Forgiven and Forgiving
We need daily bread. We need forgiveness – to be forgiven and to forgive. Ours souls can’t thrive under the weight of guilt. And our souls can’t thrive under the weight of bitterness. So Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us . . . as we forgive.”
These words Jesus gave us to pray are not easy. Some of you might struggle to believe that your failures have ever truly been forgiven. Maybe you’ve sought forgiveness from someone you harmed, but you’re not sure it was ever given. Others of you might struggle to forgive. The hurt is deep, the pain too fresh. Wherever you are with this, just pray as Jesus taught. “Father forgive me . . . and help me to forgive.”
We are kept alive by mercy as much as we are by a meal. In asking for forgiveness we find our way beyond survival to real life.
Where do you need forgiveness?
Where are you struggling to forgive?
Forgive us, O God, and help us to forgive. Unless we receive this grace from you and learn to give it to others, we won’t be the people you made us to be. As you provide for our every need, grant us your mercy and make us merciful, that we might truly live. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.