Daily Meditations

The Lord’s Prayer (Part III)

There is one thing that stands as a line of demarcation between Egypt and the desert, between slavery and freedom; it is a moment when we act decisively and become new people, establishing ourselves in an absolutely new moral situation. In terms of geography it was the Red Sea, in terms of the Lord’s Prayer it is ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive’. This ‘as we forgive’ is the moment when we take our salvation into our own hands, because whatever God does depends on what we do; and this is tremendously important in terms of ordinary life.

If these people who are moving out of Egypt into the Promised Land take with them, out of the Land of Egypt, their fears, their resentments, their hatreds, their grievances, they will be slaves in the Promised Land. They will not be freemen, even in the making. And this is why at the demarcation line between the trials of fire and the beguilement of old habits, stands this absolute condition which God never relaxes: as you forgive, the measure which you use will be used for you; and as you forgive, you will be forgiven; what you do not forgive will be held against you.

It is not that God does not want to forgive, but if we come unforgiving, we check the mystery of love, we refuse it and there is no place for us in the kingdom. We cannot go further if we are not forgiven, and we cannot be forgiven as long as we have not forgiven everyone of those who have wronged us. This is quite sharp and real and precise and no one has any right to imagine that he is in the kingdom of God, that he belongs to it, if there is still unforgiveness in his heart. To forgive one’s enemies is the first, the most elementary characteristic of a Christian; failing this, we are not yet Christian at all, but are still wandering in the scorching wilderness of Sinai.

But forgiveness is something extremely difficult to achieve. To grant forgiveness at a moment of softening of the heart, in an emotional crisis is comparatively easy; not to take it back is something that hardly anyone knows how to do. What we call forgiveness is often putting the other one on probation, nothing more; and lucky are the forgiven people if it is only probation and not remand. We wait impatiently for evidence of repentance, we want to be sure that the penitent is not the same any more, but this situation can last a lifetime and our attitude is exactly the contrary of everything which the gospel teaches, and indeed commands us, to do.

So the law of forgiveness is not a little brook on the boundary between slavery and freedom: it has breadth and depth, it is the Red Sea. The Jews did not get over it by their own effort in man-made boats, the Red Sea was cut open by the power of God; God had to lead them across. But to be led by God one must commune with this quality of God which is the ability to forgive. God remembers, in the sense that, once we have done wrong, he will forever, until we change, take into account that we are weak and frail; but he will never remember in terms of accusation or condemnation; it will never be brought up against us. The Lord will yoke himself together with us, into our lives, and he will have more weight to carry, he will have a heavier cross, a new ascent to Calvary which we are unwilling or incapable of undertaking.

~Archbishop Anthony Bloom, Living Prayer