Where This Meets That
“Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Mt 6.9-13)
Widely considered among Christians the “perfect prayer,” this is how Jesus himself taught the disciples to pray. Some might argue its merits as a rote prayer versus its example as a general outline for prayer, but it is nevertheless perhaps the most widely recognized and prayed recitation in Christendom. In this prayer, we ask God to send his kingdom, and we willfully submit ourselves to his “jurisdiction.” Its tongue is humble and its content self-denying. Simply put, we are weak and therefore seek to rely fully on Our Lord to provide both sustenance and justice. Even more simply, sustain us and forgive us.
So, at the request of the disciples, this is how Jesus – the Messiah, the Son of Man, Son of God, God – taught us to pray. Pray with a humble heart, seeking a mercy that we benchmark by what we demonstrate in our own lives. Forgiveness, of course, is itself an act of humility and generosity; an act of generously giving a wounded part of oneself to him who has caused the wound in order to bring about healing in both. The humility comes in the terms of our giving, terms that, in perfection, should be unconditional.
The wrongdoer might know perfectly well what wrong he did to us, or he might not, or he simply might not care a lick. Yet, we must forgive him for his misdeed, and we must do so by generously and humbly giving up that part of ourselves that was wounded. If we do not give up that full wounded part of ourselves, then we can not fully forgive, and the wound will continue to fester, continue to poison our souls. There can thus be no true peace between us, and in that separation we also drive separation between ourselves and God. Why? Surely we have wronged God; we feel it in our hearts. By asking God to forgive us while we fail to truly forgive and reconcile the distance between ourselves and our wrongdoers, we fundamentally seek to subvert justice from God.
By contrast, forgiveness facilitates freedom. By forgiving others, we free ourselves from the burden of wrath. By the same token, while freeing ourselves by forgiving, we must also be willing to be forgiven ourselves. When we forgive freely, we do our part to demonstrate God’s justice and therefore should feel our burdens lifted when God forgives us our own wrongdoings.
An old parable tells of two monks, one older than the other, who were walking through a forest when they came to a river bank and saw a beautiful young woman standing at the edge, troubled because she was unable to cross. These two monks were from a sect that practiced celibacy, and they had both taken vows never to touch a woman. The older of the two monks, however, sensed the woman’s great distress and came to her aid, lifting her onto his back and carrying her across the river.
On the other side, the young woman thanked the older monk and departed. The two monks continued their journey for some time in silence, but the younger monk was greatly troubled at his companion’s actions. In time, the older monk sensed anxiety in the younger and asked what the matter was. The younger fired back, “Tell me, old man, what it felt like to dismiss your vows so easily! What did it feel like to be so swayed from your spiritual path? To have her thighs wrapped around your waist and her body up against yours? Tell me, old man, what it is like to carry such a beautiful young woman!”
The older monk silently looked down at the stony path before him as he continued walking, then he responded to his companion’s glare: “Perhaps, young brother, it is you who should tell me, for I put her down two hours ago, and you still carry her.”
Jeremiah 31:34 tells us that when God forgives our iniquities, he remembers our sins no more. Therefore, he effectively erases them. He throws them into the fire. He does not simply put them into his pocket to pull out during a weak moment; he remembers them no more. Thus should we also forgive others, and likewise should we also accept forgiveness.
Jewish tradition describes the messages contained in the Torah as Black Fire on White Fire, the “Black Fire” being the printed words and the “White Fire” being the space left over. Both “fires” burn together to form meaning to the reader, giving an individual his own personal interpretation from each reading.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we appreciate the simple core of the meaning of the printed words, but at the same time it is interesting to note the “White Fire” of what is missing: thanksgiving. Again, Christians believe that the Lord’s Prayer is how God wants us to pray, asking him to provide us sustenance and justice and to put our complete faith in his answering these prayers. Whether Christ is providing us a rote prayer or simply an outline, it is significant that he does not ask our thanks. Surely we are thankful and as such must express gratitude to God, but gratitude stirs from self and can not be imposed. It is something we must do on our own, and just as we should give freely without asking for thanks, we should note that Our Lord models this for us here.
Think about it. Many of us get frustrated when we don’t receive a gesture of thanks after letting a car enter the highway in front of us in medium traffic, and yet God, the creator and provider of every wisp of life breath and every heartbeat of companionship, asks no thanks.
It is a subtle, yet profound, point that Jesus does not ask for gratitude and underscores that Our Lord gives himself freely.