This post is the fifth part of an ongoing series on The Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6.
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I think forgiveness is one of the most challenging concepts we find in the Bible (or anywhere else, for that matter). When I forgive someone, it feels like I’m letting them off the hook for something they should be held accountable for or excusing the behavior. To forgive can feel like ignoring something that should not be ignored.
Last year I wrote a two-part blog series on what forgiveness is and is not, so I won’t revisit all of that material again. However, the idea itself demands to be discussed, if only because it shows up in Jesus’ prayer in Matthew 6.
After Jesus prays that God will “give us today our daily bread,” he goes on to say, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).
There is an episode of the TV show Louie starring Louis C.K. in which Louie is harassed and bullied by some teenagers in a pizza place. He feels angry and humiliated, and he does something that lots of people have probably fantasized about doing: He follows one of the teenagers back to his house to confront him. Louie knocks on the door, and the teen’s father answers. Louie tells the father what his son had done to him earlier that night, and the father is furious. He calls his son into the living room, who emerges a second later, shocked to see Louie in his house. Suddenly, the father harshly slaps his teenage son across the face and begins to loudly berate the boy. All of a sudden, the teenager—who earlier had been the bully—was now the victim. It now becomes apparent that the son is simply growing up to be like his father.
In the course of an hour, this teenager was both the aggressor and the victim.
When it comes to forgiveness, there are moments when we need to forgive others as well as moments when we need to be forgiven, and sometimes those moments sit right next to each other.
When Jesus prays, he says, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
Jesus invites us to realize how hard it is to forgive and to realize how hard it is to know that we need to ask for forgiveness.
Perhaps Jesus is pointing out that forgiveness is like a conduit—it travels to us and from us on the same highway. And if we block forgiveness from one direction (either by refusing to forgive someone or by refusing to acknowledge that we need forgiveness), we block it from the other direction as well. If my soul is open to the idea of forgiveness, I have to be aware of both sides of it.
Like I’ve said before, forgiveness is not pretending that someone else’s actions didn’t affect you the way that they did, and forgiveness certainly is not always reconciling and pretending that everything is okay. Forgiveness is not allowing ourselves to be placed in harm’s way over and over again at the mercy of a toxic person. You don’t have to give someone permission to hurt you again.
Rather, forgiveness is the act of releasing the other person from our anger and our need to see them feel the same pain that they caused us.
It is choosing to not allow the anger and pain to win and to free ourselves from the burden of thinking about our offender as a monster or a villain in our own story.
I need to do this for other people, and I need other people to do this for me.
There have been times when I needed to forgive people, and there have been times when I have needed forgiveness. This is true of every human being. Nobody is always the offender or the offended. We switch roles all the time. The highway runs in both directions.
So may we forgive, and may we understand our own need to be forgiven.
May you remember the humanity of others, and may they remember yours as well.