THE OUR FATHER #5 - February 9, l964
"FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES, AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US."
This is the 5th petition of the Lord's Prayer. It is the only one that has a condition attached to it. The condition is that we shall be forgiven by Almighty God, only if we forgive those who have offended against us. And the curious fact about it is, that it was we who placed this terrifying condition. For we, it is, who pray to God saying: "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." In effect, we ask God not to forgive us unless, we also forgive others.
Now, it is probably considered, by most of us, the hardest think in the world to forgive our enemies. Perhaps it was for this reason that our Heavenly Father makes us place this condition on our own lips, in order that we may fully understand this petition's request and demand. We must forgive if we are to be forgiven. If we do not forgive, we shall not be forgiven. That is what we ask for in this 5th petition.
Why do we find it so hard to forgive others? How often we have offended others! And how often, perhaps, we have wondered why others found it so difficult to forgive us. And yet, if we expect others to relent towards us, why do we find it so difficult to relent towards others? And often it happens that hatred leads men and women to greater sacrifices in wreaking their revenge than the Saints have made in order to gain heaven.
Now, no matter how good we may try to be, the fact remains that all of us are sinners. It was the beloved disciple, St. John, who declared: "If any man say he is without sin, he lies, and the truth is not in him." All of us, therefore, must learn the grand lesson of forgiveness.
Am I interpreting this petition correctly? Does it really mean what I have said? Well, in order to find out the truth, just read the sixth chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel, verses 9 to l4, where we find the prayer in full. You will notice a curious fact, if having read these verses, you continue to read the next two verses, which contain the only comment which Our Lord makes upon His great Prayer; out of all its petitions, He selects only one for comment, and that one is this 5th petition. Here are the two verses: "For if you will forgive men their offenses, your Heavenly Father will forgive you also your offenses. But, if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offenses."
The Lord's Prayer is a small part of Our Lord's Sermon on the Mount. Before teaching the Prayer to His hearers, He had mentioned a number of traditions amongst the Jews that He desired to correct. I call your attention to one of these traditions. "You have heard," said Our Lord, "that it hath been said: 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thy enemy.' But I say to you," He continued, "Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who maketh His sun to rise upon good and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust. For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? Do not even the publicans do this? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more? Do not the heathens this? Be you therefore perfect as also your Heavenly Father is perfect."
Shortly before this, He had said that "whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of judgment . . . If therefore thou shalt offer thy gift at the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against thee, leave there your offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother: and then coming back, thou shalt offer thy gift." When Our Lord used the word "brother," He signified every human being, for we are all brethren because we are children of our Heavenly Father.
I need not dwell longer on this great commandment of brotherly love, except to quote for you the declaration of St. John: "If any man say, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar. For he that loveth not his brother, whom he seeth, how can he love God, whom he seeth not? And this commandment we have from God, that he who loveth God, love also his brother."
Throughout His life the Master emphasized the fact that our judgment before God would depend in great part on the way we treated other people. The norm He said He would use on judgment day would be the manner in which we treated other men. It is no wonder then that Jesus included this idea in His perfect prayer. He told His followers that when they prayed they should pray, "FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US."
Our greatest of all reasons for forgiving our fellow men and women must be, that the all-wise, the all-loving God, has bidden us to forgive offenses if we wish to be forgiven our own offenses.