June 10, 2009

Forgive Us Our Trespasses

Today's let's consider the next petition of the Lord's Prayer.

Previous posts in the series:
Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread

And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us

The Catechism of the Catholic Church stresses the importance of the second phrase, "as we forgive..." and calls it "astonishing". (2838) Jesus teaches us this same concept elsewhere in the Gospels, sometimes explicitly (Mk 11:25) and sometimes as part of a larger idea (Mt 5:48, Lk 6:36). We are to be like God, and that includes having God's mercy.

Good will always overcome evil. God's forgiveness will always overcome sin. But there is a price. There is always a price, and it must be paid. Jesus paid the price for our sins on Calvary, for each one of us.

We get forgiveness when we give forgiveness. We get the forgiveness that we give to others. If we are not forgiving, then we will not be forgiven. This is not a business transaction; it is more a call-and-response. That difference is the answer to the debate over faith vs. works. We cannot buy our way into Heaven. We cannot possibly earn this on our own. We are children in the checkout line, and our pocketful of change comes up far short of the gift we want.

Our Father covers the balance out of love for us, like a good father paying the rest of the bill from his own pocket. God pays from his own pocket, gives of Himself in a very real, very physical way, yet we must put our meager pennies on the counter as well. We must be involved. We must respond to the call and pay what we can. Our good works put down that small amount, and we pay it in faith that Christ has made up the infinitely great balance that would remain.

We ask for forgiveness. We want it, and while we can't afford it, we must pay what we can. We do this by giving mercy. We forgive, like God our Father does.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2d ed. (Washington: United States Catholic Conference, 1997).

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