Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Forgive Us Our Offenses As We Forgive Those Who Have Offended Us.

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent
Reading I
Isaiah 55:10-11
Thus says the LORD:
Just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
And do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
Giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
So shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.
This short reading comes from the last chapter of the second part of Isaiah, known as Second Isaiah (chaps. 40-55). It is also known as the ‘Book of Consolation’ because it speaks with hope and encouragement of the approaching end of the Jewish exile in Babylon, in contrast to earlier prophecies which rather emphasised the punishments which Israel had merited by her infidelities.

We are reminded that God has his plans for the world and they will not be frustrated. Those plans are not arbitrary. They are for the wellbeing of all creation. He is the loving Father to whom we pray with confidence, described in the Gospel reading about the Lord’s Prayer.

The prophet expresses these ideas in language that is truly poetic. The inevitability of God’s Word being realised is like that of the gentle rain that makes the earth fertile and fruitful and so produces the seed that provides the bread on which we live. "So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it."
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Psalm 34
From all their distress God rescues the just.
Glorify the LORD with me,
let us together extol his name.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
From all their distress God rescues the just.
Look to him that you may be radiant with joy,
and your faces may not blush with shame.
When the poor one called out, the LORD heard,
and from all his distress he saved him.
From all their distress God rescues the just.
The LORD has eyes for the just,
and ears for their cry.
The LORD confronts the evildoers,
to destroy remembrance of them from the earth.
From all their distress God rescues the just.
When the just cry out, the LORD hears them,
and from all their distress he rescues them.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.
From all their distress God rescues the just.
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Matthew 6:7-15
Jesus said to his disciples:
“In praying, do not babble like the pagans,
who think that they will be heard
because of their many words.
Do not be like them.
Your Father knows what you need
before you ask him.

“This is how you are to pray:
Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

“If you forgive men their transgressions,
your heavenly Father will forgive you.
but if you do not forgive men,
neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”
Jesus tells us here not to babble endless prayers as if somehow by so doing we can bring God round to our way of thinking. (Read Elijah and the priests of Baal: 1 Kings 18:25-29.) Some religious groups, too, would keep calling their god by all his different names, hoping that by hitting on the right one he would listen. There is no need to do this because God knows our needs before we ask. Why then do we need to pray at all? The praying is not for God’s sake but for our own. It is important for us to become deeply aware of our needs and of our basic helplessness and total dependence on God. We also need to learn just what God wants of us so that we can do what he wants.

And that is what the Lord’s Prayer is about. Strictly speaking, it is not a prayer to be recited. It is a way of praying; it is a list of the things we need to pray about. And it is less our telling God what we want him to do than making ourselves aware of the ways by which we can become more united with him. It is a very challenging and, in a way, a very dangerous and daring prayer to make.
Our Father: God is the source of all our life and all we have and are. We say ‘our’ and that ‘our’ includes every single person. And, if God is the source of life  for every human person then each one of them, without even one exception, is my brother or sister.

May your name be held holy,
Your Kingdom come,
Your will be done on earth as in heaven: The three petitions are really saying the same thing. Obviously, in one sense we cannot make God’s name more holy than it is. But we do need to respect that awesome holiness and that is more for our sake than God’s. The petition can also be a petition that God make his name holy by showing his glory, in this case by bringing about the Kingdom in its fullness.

We want God to be loved and respected and worshipped by all - not in some future life but here and now, on earth. We want the loving and compassionate Reign of God to be fully accepted by people everywhere as part of their lives, individually and corporately. We want God’s will for this world to be also the will of people everywhere.

Clearly, all this has to begin with ourselves. The coming of the Kingdom is not just the work of God alone; it is the result of us cooperating with him in the work. What am I doing in my life now for the realisation of that Kingdom?

Give us this day our daily bread: A prayer that our needs be satisfied for today. A prayer that rules out excessive anxiety about the future. But how are those needs to be satisfied? Do we expect manna to drop from the skies? And what about that little word ‘our’ again? Does it just mean me, my family, our community, our town, our country - or much more? Is this not a prayer that we all work together to ensure that no one goes hungry? Yet we know that millions do go to bed hungry every night and even more suffer from an unhealthy diet. And most of it is the result of human behaviour and neglect. This prayer reminds us that changing that situation is the responsibility of all of us. Another dangerous prayer.

Forgive us our trespasses, 
as we forgive those who trespass against us: As youngsters, when we first heard the word "trespass" and "trespasses", we probably thought of the sign on an abandoned building in the city, or on the neighbor's lawn, in the countryside.  The King James version  "Forgive us our debts" isn't any clearer for children who don't owe money to anyone.  This is the only petition which is spelled out more clearly at the end of this passage. “If you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failings either.” This is is another dangerous thing to pray for: Father, don't forgive me my sins unless I am willing to forgive those who have sinned against me. I really should not say it unless I am ready. And, if I am not ready, I need to pray hard for a forgiving heart. (cf. Matt 18:21-35, about the unforgiving servant.)

Lead us not into temptation, 
but deliver us from evil:   A final plea that God’s help will be with us all the way. It is an admission of our basic impotence to set things right in our own lives and in the world. Given the challenges of the rest of the prayer, we need all the help we can get.

If this prayer Jesus taught us were to really enter our heart and minds, we would become deeply transformed people. So let us stop babbling it as we often do and really pray it, phrase by phrase - and live it.

Living Space
The Irish Jesuits


Elizabeth Mahlou said...

Thank you for this post. It is very useful for me. I have tried to parse out the various verses over the past three years with my first year confirmation kids who recite by heart rather easily but do not understand much of it. I like having your explanations of the parts. This will inform my future efforts with the high schoolers.

Sarah in the tent said...

'Your father knows what you need before you ask him.'

What are we asking here? For what we think we need? Or for God to show us what he knows we need? They might not be the same!

The prodigal son wanted to ask his estranged father to take him on as a slave. But before he could ask, his father had reinstated him as his son.

The Our Father reminds us that our nature and vocation is to be a child of God.

'Do not babble like the pagans'
Is this the only point in the Gospels at which Our Lord speaks disparagingly about 'pagans'? It's quite a gentle reproach. When people are really desperate, they tend to babble to make themselves heard. It's natural. But quite soon the best thing is to calm down, reflect and listen. Maybe this is one of the purposes of praying the Our Father.

Fr. John L. Sullivan said...

Sarah, your question "What are we asking here?" is a very good one. The options you mention in answer to your question are on the mark.

Most of us - maybe all of us - ask God for what we think we need, although sometimes that's simply what we want. Asking God to show us what he knows we need is not at all the same, but it is a better prayer, because God knows what we need to stay on the best and surest path to heavenly bliss.

That doesn't mean that folks who ask for what they want rather than for what they need never get what they're praying for. As a wise and prudent Father, God will allow us to get what we want even when it's not what is best for us. In creating us, he has given us the gift of free will. We can choose to do what we know is wrong -- even if it might cost us our eternal salvation.

God is not going to take our freedom of choice away just because we use it to stray on paths we would be better off to stay away from. No matter how far we wander, He will leave us road signs and beacon lights to guide us back to the right road. But, even then, it's up to us to remember "that our nature and vocation is to be a child of God."