Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 9, 2017
By Father Peter Richards
In the “Our Father,” let’s focus today on the petition “and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” What about the word ”trespasses”? Why does Jesus use that word instead of sin? Isn’t that what he means? Good question! Of course, Jesus didn’t actually say ”trespasses” because he wasn’t speaking English. “Trespasses” comes from the oldest manuscript of St. Matthew’s Gospel, from which the “Our Father” is taken, which was written in Greek. So what is the Greek word translated “trespasses”? It’s hotheilemata. It’s original and most literal meaning is debts, which is how it is translated in some editions of the Bible. But hotheilemata also came to mean sins. This tells us something about sin. When we sin, we go into debt. We owe something. We owe restitution. And we owe God and other people an apology because sin hurts them, either directly or indirectly. Even a sin no one else knows about moves us toward selfishness and away from love. We see both restitution and apology in the beautiful sacrament of reconciliation. The priest gives us a penance to do, which is restitution. The act of contrition is our apology. The penance and the act of contrition we do are a small participation in the much greater penance and the act of contrition that Jesus did for all of us on the cross, when he cried out to God, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do!” (Luke 23:34)
God’s forgiving us is conditional on us forgiving other people. Jesus makes this explicit immediately after teaching the “Our Father” when he says: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15) Is this condition for being forgiven some kind of hoop God makes us jump through? I think it’s more like a simple requirement for being compatible with God. God is love, and if we refuse to forgive, we are refusing to love. We are rejecting love. If we reject love, we reject God. If we do that, he won’t force us to be with him, either now or in the next life.
Some people find it relatively easy to forgive. For others, it’s more difficult. Some folks find it hard to forgive because they think forgiveness means saying what’s wrong is OK, or all anger has to be gone, or you have to have forgotten the wrong, or you have to put yourself in harm’s way again. But forgiveness doesn’t mean any of that. It means being willing to let go of a desire for revenge, and wanting what’s best for the one who wronged us (or other people). Forgiveness begins with the will, with a choice. The emotional effects of that choice to forgive usually take longer. Eventually, anger subsides, and when the person who committed the sin comes to mind, we won’t experience as much inner turmoil or anxiety. But when God says to forgive, he’s calling us to make a choice, not try to forcibly change our emotions. We can choose to forgive, whatever our emotions are. I’ve found most Christians are willing to forgive and want to, once they realize what forgiveness really is. Like anything else good, we can only do it with God’s help. Let’s all ask God for the grace to forgive others, as we want God to forgive us.
With much love in Christ,