Saturday, July 16, 2016

Year C, Proper 12, Luke 11:1-13, "For we ourselves forgive"

I've often been uncomfortable with this petition of the Lord's Prayer.  It's that second clause that gets me every time.

In the Matthew version of the prayer we ask to be forgiven "as we also have forgiven".  In the text from the RSV it is "for we ourselves forgive".  Whatever the version there is this uncomfortable link between God's forgiveness and our forgiving.

My first reaction to this has been to see this petition as an "if, then" proposition.  "If" you forgive others, God also will forgive you.  This is uncomfortable as I hope and pray that God's capacity to forgive vastly exceeds my own, for I am not always very good at it.

A second way I understand it is a "because, therefore" proposition.  That we are to forgive, because we have first been forgiven.  Our forgiving our neighbor, then, is a response to God's having forgiven us.  This is the way I understand the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18.  God forgives, and so, then, we also 'ought' to forgive.  

The third way of understanding this is that we are making this request of God, and using our own ability to forgive as a means of calling upon God to forgive.  For we ourselves forgive, so then, God also 'ought' to forgive.  

I'm uncomfortable with the ramifications of all of these explanations.

Of late, I've come to another understanding, and that is that the relationship between God's forgiving and our forgiving is intricately tied together, not because one derives from the other, but because both are part of a new reality, a new way of being, in which love forms the foundation upon which everything else is based.  When love is the norm, what happens is that the connection between what we do, and who and whose we are, is broken.  Who I am as a person, and whose I am as a child of God, is not determined by how I have behaved.  Forgiveness wipes away that connection.

Our natural tendency is to connect the two.  I have done bad things, therefore, I am a bad person.  The way of love is different.  Because I am loved, because I am first and foremost a child of God, created in his image, therefore who I am, and whose I am, is not related to what I do.  When parents consider the nature of their relationship with their children, or children with their parents, they understand this.  My kid is my kid, and I love them unconditionally, quite apart from their actions.  They may make me proud.  They may greatly disappoint me.  But regardless, they are mine, and I love them.  Period.

So it is with our relationship with God.  That we are children of God, holy and precious in his sight, is not the reward for good behavior.  It is the condition into which we were born.

This world view, if you will, is by necessity all encompassing.  If my status as a child of God is a gift, freely given, because I am created by God, and in God's image, then that must of necessity also be extended to others.  If who I am and whose I am is not dependent on what I do, then neither does who you are, or whose you are, depend on what you do.  This is the nature of love and forgiveness.  

Love that is conditional, is not love at all.  Forgiveness that is not for all, is not at all.

The prayer for forgiveness is a prayer to be loved for who we are, not for what we do.  It is a recognition that love always is a gift, not a reward.  And it is always reciprocal.  To be loved is also to love.  

This is at one and the same time most obvious and mysterious.  But it is.

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