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Forgive Us Our Trespasses

“Forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Matthew 6:12

When did you last witness an act of forgiveness taking place? I ask because I suspect that forgiveness is not something of which most of us see a great deal in our culture. One only has to watch the news or listen to the radio to notice the divisive rhetoric and the unbending polarization which has become a normative part of our public discourse. Or, on a personal level, I suspect that most of us have at least one relationship which needs mending.

Now, for a bit of good news: the Christian faith offers a powerful remedy to such predicaments. That’s because Christianity proclaims a radical message of forgiveness. It begins with our own forgiveness and then culminates in our forgiving others. Or, as C.S. Lewis once wrote, "To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you." (“On Forgiveness,” The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis)

When Jesus prays the fifth petition of the Lord ’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” this is the idea He’s articulating. Embedded in this phrase is a confession. When we ask God to forgive our sins, it presupposes that we are also confessing those sins. This does not mean, however, that we have to recall an exhaustive litany of our shortcomings in an instant, but it does suggest that there is a general and real acknowledgement we are sinful. Admitting our sins is part of the process of spiritual growth and we shouldn’t be afraid to do it. In 1 John 1:9, we read that “God is faithful and fair. If we confess our sins, he will forgive our sins.” This means that we can be honest and transparent with God. He knows that bad stuff that we’ve done anyway, so we might as well confess it and get on with it!
Receiving God’s forgiveness also leads us to forgive others. This is a radical teaching, and it shapes the way we interact with others. We can offer forgiveness to those with whom with we disagree, precisely because we have been forgiven. Paul summarizes it this way, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) And if you have someone you’re struggling to forgive–a relationship you’re struggling to mend or a resentment you’re struggling to releaseperhaps draw your attention back to the God who has shown you kindness and compassion in your sin and reflect on the depths of your need for grace.

May the Lord fill us with a deep sense of our own forgiveness, and enable us to be compassionate and forgiving toward others.
The Rev. Alex D. Graham III
Associate for Children and Family Ministries
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