“As we have forgiven those who are in debt to us”

Matthew 6:12

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

“As we have forgiven those who are in debt to us” (Matthew 6:12)

“For we ourselves forgive each one who is in debt to me” (Luke 11:4)

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

For those who have been following these reflections closely, you may have noticed a theme emerging quite regularly: reciprocity — quid pro quo. (Just as they do in the ‘soapies’. It always sounds more powerful if you switch into another language).

Here we see our prayer for forgiveness turned back on ourselves. We now ask God that we be forgiving, just as God forgives to us. What is interesting in these translations I’ve used (the New Jerusalem Bible, by the way) is how they are phrased.

In both cases, our prayer claims that forgiveness is what we are already about. We have forgiven in the past. We forgive even now as we speak to God.

Quid pro quo. But not, once again as a kind of reciprocal agreement of equals. I am reminded of the parable in Matthew (18:21-35), where the king forgives a massive debt, but the debtor refuses to do likewise to his servant – and gets nastily punished by the king for failing to forgive. Do we embrace God’s abundant graces but fail to show mercy to others?

I don’t know about you, but I see myself all too often like the unforgiving debtor.

It’s not easy to forgive. There are times when others do you permanent harm, sometimes harm that changes your life forever. You’ll never quite the same again. And even if you superficially forgive someone, the memory of hurt remains, often eating away at your soul. Sometimes you ‘forgive’ because you feel a kind of obligation, a duty to the community or even a sense of obligation to God – you forgive me, so to ‘square’ things I’ll do the same. (Quid pro quo, and all that). Is that forgiveness real?

At best, perhaps all we can do is to desire the desire to forgive.

It’s a struggle.

Merciful God,

It’s hard to forgive sometimes; if I can’t forgive fully may I desire to forgive; if I can’t do that, let me desire the desire. In any case, help!


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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