Transactional forgiveness. Really?

Dear President Trump,

I know I talked about it not too long ago, but I want to revisit the Lord’s Prayer today. In the UCC version we say “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” and I’ve always tripped right on through not giving the words much thought. The last couple of weeks we’ve been using a version adapted from the Anglican Church of New Zealand and the parallel line in this one is “may we be forgiven in the same measure that we forgive.” I tripped right on past those words too, but Laura didn’t.

When she read the bulletin with this new version of the Lord’s Prayer Laura pointed out that there are a lot of people who would be aced out of being forgiven if they can only have it in the same measure they have forgiven as many are unable to make that leap themselves. It essentially says that God (the Father/Mother/Creator/Holy One) will forgive us as much as we forgive others, so technically, we have to pony up first. It doesn’t exactly sound like there’s much grace there. In fact, it sounds quite transactional – you will be forgiven as much as you forgive, no more, no less; please repeat at least weekly so you are sure not to forget this is how it is.

Whether we stick with the traditional God Father who art in heaven framing or bring it down to the earthly community of real people (see April 14, 2018), this quid pro quo forgiveness arrangement is problematic because it is so withholding. Forgiveness and release from all of our debts are only available to the ones of us who are good, those of us who measure up and have already done our fair share of forgiving.

This really doesn’t seem to be in keeping with Jesus’s main messages of radical love and compassion so I wonder whether he really said it this way or if his message was somehow twisted to help keep people in line thinking they need to earn forgiveness. Yes, there is text telling us Jesus encouraged people to turn the other cheek and to love their enemies, but it has always seemed just as important that he spent time with and loved the outcasts as they were. Ironically, that Jesus doesn’t seem to be embodied in the “Lord’s Prayer.”

May we feel safe to not forgive when it is not what we can or want to do.
May we be happy to preserve the preciousness of forgiveness rather than treat it as a commodity.
May we have a healthy respect for the spark of divinity in each one of us.
May we sort out a peaceful way forward based in generosity, compassion, and radical kindness.

Sincerely,
Tracy Simpson

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