FORGIVE US OUR SINS (AND OUR DEBTS)
FORGIVE US OUR SINS (AND OUR DEBTS) MARCH 20, 2020
Many Christians may think there is only one version of the Lord’s Prayer because they grew up only saying one version. But, if you have visited different churches you may be aware there are different ways of saying it. At Holy Trinity we say a different version at our traditional and our informal worship services. The point at which the versions usually differ is the part we are looking at this week in our series on the Lord’s Prayer—the part where we pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
The difference comes around the translation for the word for “sins.” In some versions of the prayer it is forgive us our “sins”, in some versions it is “trespasses” and in some versions it is “debts.” If you look at the original Greek, the word that is used in the Gospel of Matthew is opheile (oh-fay-leh), which literally means “debt.” The same word is used in the Gospel of Luke, although Luke also uses the word hamartia, which means “sin or failure” or “missing the mark.” So Matthew’s version of the Lord’s prayer would most literally read, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”, whereas Luke’s version would read, “forgive us our sins as we forgive our debtors.”
Although Lutherans do not use this translation of the Lord’s Prayer, it does make the meaning very concrete in a way that the word “trespasses” or even “sins” does not. We can spiritualize “trespasses” and “sins” so that the words can seem distant and impersonal, but “debts” has very real economic ramifications that directly apply to our lives.
The Bible actually talks a lot about financial dealings and the issue of debt, including the passage from Matthew 18:21-35 which is our Gospel lesson for Sunday. In the parable, Jesus tells about a man who owes a rich king more than he could ever pay , but is forgiven all his debt. That same man then refuses to forgive a co-worker the debt he owes, even though it is very little. When the king hears that the servant he forgave did not forgive his fellow servant, the king is furious and throws the man in prison. The meaning is clear: we are called to forgive debts as God has forgiven us.
So what might debt forgiveness or debt reduction mean for us today? What would it mean for students under the burden of heavy student loan debt? What would it mean for those overwhelmed under credit card debt? What would it mean for those caught in a vicious cycle of payday loan debt? What would it mean for poorer nations who cannot pay back high interest on debt which means they cannot provide as strong a safety net for their citizens?
-Pastor Erik Goehner
(To learn more about the issue of countries struggling with debt and how loan forgiveness can help, check out: www.jubileeusa.org )