It practically goes without saying: there are people who have hurt or offended us. Sometimes, it happens in big ways: a spouse secretly has an affair or empties out the bank account; a perpetrator makes us the victim of a crime. More often, it happens in small ways: people wound our pride or take us for granted.
Whether the insults are big or small, we may carry the memory of them for years. And each time an insult is recalled, we may experience anything from a twinge of resentment to a traumatic shutdown. Some things may never be forgotten, and if the truth be told, we’re reluctant to forgive.
And then we encounter these words from Jesus:
Pray like this: “Our Father who is in heaven, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven. Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we forgive those who have wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.” If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins. (Matt 6:9-15, CEB)
Yikes. So is there anyone toward whom I’m still harboring resentment or an unwillingness to forgive? Maybe I need to get a handle on that?
In the previous two posts, I’ve suggested (following an idea from Greg Jones and Celestin Musekura) that the maxim “forgive and forget,” at least as it’s commonly understood, should be replaced by the counsel to remember well, to respond faithfully when memories of previous offenses come to mind.
What, then, does it mean to remember well? Much, of course, could be said, but let’s focus on what Jesus teaches in the Lord’s Prayer.
First, however, we need to deal with the troublesome words at the end: “if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t…”
Some read this and wonder, “Does that mean that if I fail to forgive someone, I’ll lose my salvation?” It can sound as if Jesus were saying, “If you want God to forgive you, you first need to clean up your act. Dredge up every memory of every offense and forgive them all, deeply, from the heart. Then and only then will God even think about letting you off the hook.”
But no. Jesus does not teach a religion of works. How could he, given everything else he says in response to the Pharisees?
Instead, he is teaching prayer to his disciples, people who were following him even though they still had a long way to go on the matter of forgiveness (e.g., Matt 18:21). I take Jesus to be saying something like this: “At the end of the age, when all is said and done, it will finally be revealed who has forgiveness from God and who does not (e.g., Matt 25:31-46). The ones who inherit the kingdom will be those who have lived a transformed life, characterized by the humble forgiveness of others.”
They will be, in other words, those who have learned to remember well and faithfully. And in the next (and final) post in this series, we’ll see what the Lord’s Prayer teaches us about faithful memory.