“And forgive us our sins”

Luke 11:3

Monday, 21 September 2020

“And forgive us our sins” (Luke 11:3)
“And forgive us our debts” (Matthew 6:12)

Luke 11:1-4; Matthew 6:9-13

Here again, the difference between Luke and Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer may be more on emphasis than on actual content. To go into debt, particularly to be unable to repay that debt, was seen in many cultures to have a moral obligation to another. It was also a legal obligation that had to be met. In many cases, the way to resolve it was to become a slave of the debtor to work back what was owed.

Similarly, sin was understood as a moral failure against God (often through a failure against neighbour or self) that placed one in a ‘debtor’ relationship. A sinner seeking the restoration of the good (specifically the relationship damaged in the process) would be obliged to make some kind of reparation. Indeed, to push the analogy further, consider how St Paul makes a specific link between sin and slavery: being a slave to sin.

Forgiveness in this system is the act of the debtor, the victim of the offence, and by extension God, removing or reducing the penalty. The full weight of the law, the full punishment, is reduced or lifted, not because the one who sinned deserves it, but out of an act of mercy.

It does not suddenly make what was wrong right; the wrong remains a wrong, but the obligation to make restoration is lifted. In the process the relationship before the sin is repaired. The possibility of renewal is presented. 

The image of God we assume in this prayer is that of the loving and caring parent, who seeks only the good for us. Contrast that with the often terrifying image some of us have grown up with, of a vindictive and cruel God who will strike us down if we so much as move in a slightly wrong direction!

Merciful God,

Help us to learn from our mistakes, and be inspired by you to do better because we love rather than fear you.


Fr Anthony Egan SJ

Fr Anthony Egan SJ (born Cape Town 1966; entered the Jesuits 1990; ordained 2002) has taught, full-time or part-time, at St Augustine College of South Africa, St John Vianney Seminary, Fordham University (on sabbatical) and the University of the Witwatersrand. The author/co-author of a number of books, book chapters, academic and popular articles, he is a correspondent for America magazine, a contributor to Worldwide and writes for spotlight.africa. He is also a commentator on local and international radio and television. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Helen Suzman Foundation. Extramural interests include Science Fiction, Theatre, Art and creative writing, including poetry.

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