Cancel Our Debts?

2125697998_b053ac13e1_b In my reading of the Disciple’s Prayer (the anabaptist/Quaker name for the Lord’s Prayer), we have to make sure that we don’t limit what forgiveness includes ((See part 3, part 2, and part 1)). Our (Western) tendency is to think of forgiveness in terms of personal wrongdoings, forgiveness is an individual action.  But in the prayer Jesus clearly draws on a Jewish understand of Jubilee with his selection of the word translated “debts.” ((cf. John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus for a further discussion on this topic)). The Greek word there, ophilema, literally means a debt that someone owes both financially as well as morally. Remember in Jesus’ time society wasn’t as split as it is today, a ‘sin’ to the Ancient Jew could be familial, social as well as individual. So when Jesus says, forgive people’s debts, as God has forgiven yours, I think he’s thinking back to the forgiveness of debts during the year of jubilee.

There are other examples in the Gospels where Jesus draws on this Debt language. Besides the obvious the prayer for today’s bread, or enough bread for today, reminding us of the sharing of Manna, a narrative linked to Jubilee as well, there is Jesus’ announcement in Luke 4 that the year of Jubilee had come, there’s the fact that the Gospel writers tell the story of Jesus sharing bread and fish six times in four Gospels. There are the religio-social debts canceled by Jesus’ forgiveness. And we should be quick to remember the story of Zaccheus who, through his encounter with Jesus, returned the money he had extorted from his fellow Jews. Zaccheus quite was radically practicing “forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven the debts of others.”

The prayer of forgiveness and the confession “Do not bring us into a time of trial” presupposes sin and sin as a rupture between human beings, and the risk of the earthly journey (Doctrine, McClendon 156). It admits that we who are in need of divine care have created all kinds of debts with our fellow humans, not least of which are financial. It prays for rescue and deliverance, not just in case it ever happens, but because we need deliverance regularly. How can we live as a faithful community who helps to forgive the spiritual, relational and the financial ruptures of our world?

As we approach Black Friday, and Christmas, which has been swallowed up by over-consumption and credit-card debt, maybe this is the good news we all need to hear this year. God wishes for us to be freed from this debt, and to free others, to live a life of enough, to live in a place where sharing and jubilee mark our interactions with the world far more than what we currently see on TV and in strip-mall America.

[Picture DavidDMuir]

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

10 thoughts on “Cancel Our Debts?”

  1. I have been practicing praying the disciples' prayer since Wess challenged us to do so a few weeks back. The part of the prayer that has been most prominent in my thinking and contemplations as a result is the forgiveness part of the prayer. Several years ago I discovered a long-hidden offense my former husband had committed, which resulted in my divorcing him. This offense has tested my life-long value of forgiving others. His offense was just too big and complex, carried too much pain, was too hurtful–and not only for me but for my daughters. I've talked with a dear friend about forgiveness and he asked me what it would look like. That has given me a lot to think about.
    (see next comment for more)

  2. When I started praying the disciples' prayer I couldn't pray the line, "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" without feeling that it was time to start forgiving. I wrote my ex a short letter in obedience to the leading I had. He wrote back to tell me how much it meant to him. I continue to struggle with all this but also to hold my mind & heart open to God to learn and be healed. I find myself also more aware of all the God has forgiven me, of the many debts I have been forgiven of. Maybe its the vulnerability (see the quote in Wess' Nov. 15th sermon) I stuggle with, too. I'm accustomed to being strong, stable, self-sufficient, but this is bigger than I have been able to cope with on my own.
    (More in next comment)

  3. (Last comment)
    Last week I got involved in watching a documentary called "Forgiving Dr. Mengele" http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,389491… . Its about a Jewish woman who survived Aucshwitz after she and her twin sister being made a part of the evil experiments the German Nazi Dr. Mengele conducted. Eva Kor came to the conclusion, after struggling with the horrors she experienced, that for her, forgiveness was necessary. Without it she would never be whole. She has been strongly criticized for this, and the the documentary shows several important conversations she has with others about the nature of forgiveness. Questions such as, "do we have the right to forgive on behalf of others?" and "Can we actually forgive as long as the perpetrator still has the ability to commit more offenses?" and "Is the forgiveness real if the perpetrator is already dead?" and "Who can forgive–people, or is it only for God to do?"
    I agree with Wess. This is an important lesson Jesus is bringing to us. Its easy to just let myself get caught up in daily life and ignore the tough lesson. I hope to continue to let myself learn from our Teacher.

  4. Fantastic post. Thanks for illuminating the 'debt' language. I just found your blog through Church Relevance. As a blogger who can't possibly blog about theology, I definately appreciate it from others. See you around!

  5. very good thoughts. one of my passions mirrors yours. it is to recapture the jewish hermeneutic within scripture and re-install that reality back into our sunday services. like the idea of sin to the jewish mind was never an epidemic problem like we get taught, a rabbi wrote a great article on this and how forgiveness isn't a blanket act, but one that we do willingly daily and a reality we can participate in. and the hebrew for word forgiveness is a movement word, one from a position of immobility to action. almost a restoration of sorts, a chasing after grace if you will. would love to see if/how we could partner?! Thanks

  6. i would love to see if we could partner initially through dialogue (skype?)…and also because we share some of the same interests (i wrote a blog on this very thing as well); i am also working on a few iniatives, and more brains are better than one; (1) rewriting the declaration of human rights (2) partnering with people from different faith groups, and lifestyles to find creative ways to create peace and global development to name a few ventures and am open to dreaming outloud and see what could happen…looking forward to hearing back!

  7. i would love to see if we could partner initially through dialogue (skype?)…would love to see if we could connect and see what could happen? looking forward to it.

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