Cancel Our Debts?


In my reading of the Disciple’s Prayer (the anabaptist/Quaker name for the Lord’s Prayer), we have to make sure that we don’t limit what forgiveness includes ((See part 3, part 2, and part 1)). Our (Western) tendency is to think of forgiveness in terms of personal wrongdoings, forgiveness is an individual action.  But in the prayer Jesus clearly draws on a Jewish understand of Jubilee with his selection of the word translated “debts.” ((cf. John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus for a further discussion on this topic)). The Greek word there, ophilema, literally means a debt that someone owes both financially as well as morally. Remember in Jesus’ time society wasn’t as split as it is today, a ‘sin’ to the Ancient Jew could be familial, social as well as individual. So when Jesus says, forgive people’s debts, as God has forgiven yours, I think he’s thinking back to the forgiveness of debts during the year of jubilee.

There are other examples in the Gospels where Jesus draws on this Debt language. Besides the obvious the prayer for today’s bread, or enough bread for today, reminding us of the sharing of Manna, a narrative linked to Jubilee as well, there is Jesus’ announcement in Luke 4 that the year of Jubilee had come, there’s the fact that the Gospel writers tell the story of Jesus sharing bread and fish six times in four Gospels. There are the religio-social debts canceled by Jesus’ forgiveness. And we should be quick to remember the story of Zaccheus who, through his encounter with Jesus, returned the money he had extorted from his fellow Jews. Zaccheus quite was radically practicing “forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven the debts of others.”

The prayer of forgiveness and the confession “Do not bring us into a time of trial” presupposes sin and sin as a rupture between human beings, and the risk of the earthly journey (Doctrine, McClendon 156). It admits that we who are in need of divine care have created all kinds of debts with our fellow humans, not least of which are financial. It prays for rescue and deliverance, not just in case it ever happens, but because we need deliverance regularly. How can we live as a faithful community who helps to forgive the spiritual, relational and the financial ruptures of our world?

As we approach Black Friday, and Christmas, which has been swallowed up by over-consumption and credit-card debt, maybe this is the good news we all need to hear this year. God wishes for us to be freed from this debt, and to free others, to live a life of enough, to live in a place where sharing and jubilee mark our interactions with the world far more than what we currently see on TV and in strip-mall America.

[Picture DavidDMuir]