Among the many meanings which this had for Jesus’ followers was that they were to practice the great old biblical command of Jubilee. Not only were they to forgive one another their sins and offences; they would have no debts from each other. This, indeed, is the clear meaning of the relevant word in Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. You may perhaps say that, since the debt we owe to God is moral, not financial, Jesus must have been using this word as a metaphor. That is sometimes the case; but we can’t escape the question so easily.
The problem of debt was very serious in Jesus’ time. When the revolutionaries took over the Temple at the start of the Jewish war against the Romans, thirty years after Jesus’ day, the first thing they did was to burn the records of debt. The early church certainly believed that Jesus was talking about actual debts. The Lord’s Prayer makes sense, not just in terms of individual human beings quieting their own troubled consciences, vital though that is, but also in terms of the new day when justice and peace will embrace, economically and socially as well as personally and existentially.
So this clause in the prayer is anchored, like all the others, in the career and announcement of Jesus. As I’ve said before, the prayer is given so that Jesus’ followers can breathe in what he’s doing and so, with that breath, come alive with his life.
~N.T. Wright, The Lord and His Prayer
Debt, I understand. Sin not so much. This is a day of toleration and very little seems offensive. It’s fashionable to be broad-minded you know – that is until we discuss money. Buddy, if you owe the MasterCard, the MasterCard will collect with a vengeance. To know the weight of debt is to understand both sin and it’s consequences because our debt is so massive we stand to lose everything. All of that brings us to two staggering thoughts and we have to understand each. Through the death of Christ, God has made a way for our sins to be erased – our debt to Him cancelled. That is wonderful news my friend, but you really need to understand the attached clause because the whole thing hangs in the balance for you.
Everything about forgiveness means setting aside rights. Forgiveness means something has literally been done with real consequences, and yet massive consequences have been set aside. This is what God does for us, but the Lord’s Prayer contains a powerful ‘only if’ clause – As We Forgive Our Debtors. Just in case you missed the clarity of that, the next two verses after the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:14 and 15) spell it out in bold language:
For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
Do yourself a favor and really chew on that before you move on with your day.
After this manner therefore pray ye:
Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.