Debts or Trespasses?
Do we forgive our debtors or those who trespass against us?
I have wondered this from a young age, probably stemming from the moment of mortification when I said “trespasses” and EVERYONE else in the sanctuary said “debts.” Who knew that people memorized a 2000 year old prayer differently? I mean, there are quote marks. Jesus only said it one way. How can it be two?
Never really considered the rightness or wrongness, until I read it from Matthew (New International Version) this morning.
“9 “This, then, is how you should pray:12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
Now that I’m a writer, I guess I read things a bit differently, but two things got my attention:
1. I’m asking God to forgive my debts as I have forgiven (present perfect tense) my debtors. “God, please forgive those things I owe you, as I have already forgiven them to others.” Isn’t it cool this is the “present perfect” tense? My forgiveness of the other allows the perfect present, God’s forgiveness.
2. Debts and trespasses are definitely not the same thing. Theologians may try to justify the “real meaning” of these words and Matthew’s intention when he wrote them, but if the Word of Scripture is living for me, it’s what they mean in my life when I read them that counts.
And debts and trespasses are different. Debts are something borrowed and meant to be paid back – a loan, a kindness, a transaction. Trespasses are lines knowingly crossed, transgressions against, boundaries violated, trounced or trampled. Debts feel forgivable. Transgressions feel permanent.
No wonder I have a hard time feeling like God would ever forgive me. How can I ever forgive those who have willingly trespassed against me? I guess I could try saying “debtors,” but I expect there’s a reason the ancient text has been passed down to me in the words I pray…
…making me especially grateful Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” ~ Luke 23:34
He must have known there would be people who, in their pursuit of knowing, would agonize over His words. Even in His agony, Christ left no doubt, “Forgive them.”