“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12 NIV)
I learned to pray the Lord’s Prayer asking forgiveness for our trespasses. As a child, once I learned what trespassing was I knew it was something you’d need forgiveness for, but I wasn’t entirely clear why it was singled out in the prayer Jesus taught his disciples.
Eventually, I learned that the word trespasses could be traded out for words like sin and debt that also got at the meaning of this petition in the prayer. Sin made sense. I’d had enough Sunday School to know that was wrong.
Debts was a little different. I had a pretty good handle on what forgiving debts was. Again, however, I needed help making the connection to this prayer from Jesus.
It turns out that debts is an excellent word for what’s happening here. We have a moral debt before God. This seems a more and more unpopular notion in our culture and time, but it is true.
The theif on the cross who sought Jesus’ comfort was honest: “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.” (Luke 23:41 NIV) Since our sins against others are also sins against the God who created them in love, perhaps we could say the same.
The prayer of confession in preparation for Holy Communion says it this way: “We have not done your will, we have broken your law. We have not loved our neighbors and we have not heard the cry of the needy.”
The good news of the gospel is that Jesus’ death pays a debt that humanity has insufficient moral funds to cover. People sometimes think that they might be the exception, that what they have done can’t be fully covered. But the old hymn has it right when it says, “Jesus paid it all.”
All. Every last bit.
To pray the prayer Jesus taught us (whether we say debts, trespasses, or sins in this petition) is to remember the forgiveness of our Lord and that he did truly pay it all.
Prayer: God, thank you for the riches of grace that cover my insufficiency and sin. Thank you that in your mercy, “Jesus paid it all.” Amen.