Most of us are all for forgiveness as it concerns our need to be forgiven by God, through Christ, for our sins. But, if we are honest, we’d likely prefer that the forgiveness be “unconditional” in nature. That is, we understand and appreciate that nothing we can do will earn or purchase the forgiveness of God’s grace as it is so generously poured out on us by Jesus.
So, why is it that when it comes to praying for forgiveness, in the prayer taught his disciples, Jesus makes it a “conditional” request? Do you remember this phrase of the Lord’s Prayer?: Forgive us our sins (trespasses) as we forgive those who sin (trespass) against us.
The condition for forgiveness is right there in the petition: “as we forgive”. Who among us has not stumbled over that part of Jesus’ prayer as we added our voice to the congregation’s? This is difficult, sober, praying. And I suspect that is exactly the point Jesus is making. We should not take forgiveness lightly – our own, or that which we extend to those who sin against us. The act of forgiveness is a craft or practice that we give ourselves to, in connection with our having been forgiven through Christ. In other words, I can forgive because I have been forgiven.
But Jesus is operating from the other direction in this phrase of the prayer. He’s suggesting that we offer forgiveness to those who’ve broken promise and faith with us, even as we ask God’s ongoing forgiveness upon our broken and fractured lives. In doing so, perhaps we will be given pause and consider the cost of forgiveness. What is so easily claimed, is often very costly in being given. The forgiveness that we’ve come to know and count on through Jesus (which came at a great cost to him) is more deeply appreciated as we (conditionally) count the cost of extending it to others.
How often have we plowed our way through Jesus’ prayer until we’ve come to this phrase? I suspect that it is intended to be a speed bump in the prayer that causes us to slow down, and consider the cost of our own forgiveness as we then “take up our cross” in discipleship.