Several years ago I was collecting my notes in preparation for a Bible study I was to teach the following day. My research was centered around the Lord’s prayer, and as I frequently do, I began delving into the literal translations for several of the key words. I became fixated on the words in verse 12; “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” It seemed strange to me, that Jesus, when given an opportunity to teach His followers how to pray, that He would focus on the monetary, rather than the spiritual. After all, I had always perceived the word, debts to be referring to monetary obligations, but what I found was amazing. The Greek word used here, opheilo, does in fact, translate to something owed or due, but it is not intended as a monetary debt, at all. Yes, the debt is an obligation, but it is more accurately referring to a moral fault. So, to paraphrase verse twelve, I believe it would be more easily understood when read as; Lord, forgive our moral faults, as we forgive those whose moral faults have offended us. Wow! I had been asking for forgiveness for all of these years without a true understanding of the issue.
I was on a roll now. I knew I had to chase the primary word in this passage if I was to fully understand my Savior’s teaching. My heart demanded to know the basis for this teaching on forgiveness. So, what does it mean to forgive? I was grateful to find the Greek and the Hebrew understandings of forgiveness offered the same intent, yet the Hebrew definition took me to a level which, initially, seemed unachievable. Both translations expressed our need to let go, to lift up or to pardon, but the Hebrew understanding takes us to an entirely new and loftier understanding. I could easily grasp the concept of pardoning someone who had wronged me, or even asking God to forgive me of my short-comings, but as I read the complete understanding of His thought, to forgive, I began to sense a concern for my ability to express forgiveness, with the apparent level of love it would require. As I continued to explore the elaborate definition, I encountered several words which brought new light to the requirements prescribed for His followers. I had read the story of Joseph and his brothers, the question now became, could I envision forgiving in the same manner and at the same depth as Joseph? Those words were, to accept, to raise up, and even to respect, but the one word that put me back on my heels was, armorbearer. That’s right, armorbearer. So, what Joseph did with his brothers and what the Lord is asking of us, is a task worthy of the Father, but seemingly so much further up the mountain than any of us had imagined. This concept seemed a daunting responsibility which would, invariably, require our hearts to go to places we had not anticipated. Not only was the Lord asking us to pardon the offenders, but we are given the obligation of showing them respect, and in lifting their spirits, we’re to reach out and help them carry their burdens, and to do it in love.
I was now drawn to Matthews 5, and what our role should look like through the act of forgiveness. During the Roman occupation and rule of Christ’s day, it was the law that if a Roman soldier was wearied, he could conscript you into his service, requiring you to carry his burdensome load, for one mile. We would be called to be the armorbearer of not just an offender, but an incarcerator and tormentor. Yet true forgiveness of that offender would not only bring him relief, but it would allow him to see our Savior in action. We would be witnesses of the love of God, something he may have never seen before. Verse 41 tells us, If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.
So, the question He asks of me…. How far am I willing to walk for my Savior?