P(r)aying it forward
Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’
Matthew 18:32-33 NRSV
This week we’re wrapping up the “Our Father”. On Friday we talked about how in order for us to be able to pray the “Our Father”, especially verse 10, we need to grasp the fact that God is a God of love, otherwise our relationship with him and our obedience to him will always be filled with second-guessing and doubt, and paranoia that he somehow wants bad things for us. Today we’re picking up at verse 11-12, which says
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
When Jesus told his audience Give us this day our daily bread, he meant a few things. First of all, it immediately follows his urging us to pray for God’s will to be done and his kingdom to come, and that’s no accident. We tend to “overspiritualize” the concept of God’s kingdom. We think of it as something hereafter, a future event. But the world has been ending ever since Jesus taught his disciples the Eucharist, ever since his body was physically broken and his blood physically shed. The very tangibility of the sacraments – baptism, with its water, the Eucharist, with its touching, its tasting, its consumption, foot washing, marriage – the physicality of these things is supposed to remind us that Jesus was incarnated as a human being. This is why Jesus was able to restore to us the ability to be fully human, human as God intended. So when Jesus prays for “daily bread”, he means, first and foremost, daily bread – food to eat, something to live on. And he urges us to pray for these things and not to think that they’re beneath God’s notice. In Luke 11:10-13 Jesus uses a similar analogy, of food and provision, to describe the ready availability of the Holy Spirit. He says
For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
God’s provision is tangible and we should pray accordingly. He is not repulsed by our human moments.
Secondly, Jesus was also speaking of himself when he said Give us this day our daily bread. Jesus has died for our sins once and for all – that was a singular event. Our acknowledging him as our Saviour is a singular event. But conversion is continuous. So we pray daily to remember that we have a Saviour, that he has died on the Cross for us, that he defeated death, that we are born again in him. We pray daily to be reminded of the reality of the situation, which is that Jesus has won, that we share in his victory, that we are in the power of his love, mercy, and grace. This is as much “daily bread” as actual food, because it keeps our faith alive and strong.
Lastly, we need to consider v12: And forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors. Notice that it follows the request for “daily bread.” When we are daily “fed” with Jesus, we have the ability to forgive. Forgiveness, like conversion, is a continual thing; as Martin Luther King Jr said, “Forgiveness isn’t an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude.” So in the same way that we are called to think differently about prayer and our relationship with our Father, we are called to reconsider our relationship with other people and God’s relationship with them. Because we are forgiven on the Cross – because we can “fill up” on that reality every day – we are not only able to, but expected to, forgive others. It’s true that God won’t retract his mercy if you have an unforgiving heart. That’s the reality of grace. But when you pray this prayer as it was meant to be prayed, won’t these words taste like ash in your mouth if you haven’t utilised the awesome grace of God to release those “indebted” to you by their sin? And wouldn’t you want others to be as free in their forgiveness toward you as God is?
We are all hopelessly indebted to God. And yet everyday he continues to offer us all the manna that we need. Whether we choose to ingest it, however, is up to us.
Lord Jesus Christ,
you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father,
and have told us that whoever sees you sees Him.
Show us your face and we will be saved.
Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money;
the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things;
made Peter weep after his betrayal,
and assured Paradise to the repentant thief.
Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us, the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman:
“If you knew the gift of God!”
You are the visible face of the invisible Father,
of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy:
let the Church be your visible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified.
Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing,
so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord,
and your Church, with renewed enthusiasm, may bring good news to the poor,
proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed,
and restore sight to the blind.
We ask this in your holy name,
you who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever.
Amen. (Adapted from a prayer by Pope Francis.)