Just out of curiosity, are you a debtor?
And no I am not talking about how much you owe on your house, or car or credit cards. That’s debt for sure and getting out of debt is in fact a brilliant way to make your life a whole lot better.
But I’m talking about an older meaning of debt, that is being in debt to God because of things you have done and perhaps left undone.
I mean, every Sunday we recite the prayer Jesus taught to his disciples, which we call the Lord’s Prayer, where we say, “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts and as we forgive our debtors.”
So, are you a debtor?
Perhaps you have heard that same prayer in other traditions and so are aware that many folks say “forgive us our trespasses” or “forgive us our sins”, so I suppose we could expand the question to be…
Are you a debtor, a transgressor, or a sinner?
Because as I’m sure you can see the equation is - in order to be forgiven, you need to be able to say with some conviction that you perceive yourself as a sinner.
Otherwise why would you need forgiveness?
Do you perceive yourself in need of forgiveness?
We live in a world where it is pretty obvious that a great many of us see other people as sinners.
We are really good at noting that those people are bad.
And religious folks it seems have a specialized ability, it seems, to see the sinners of others, but to be a bit blind to their own sins or at least do an amazing job of minimizing those sins.
I haven’t murdered anyone, though I did call that idiot and idiot or worse.
Jesus had a really great term for people like that!
He called them hypocrites.
White washed tombs.
Dens of vipers. At least the Pharisees. Perhaps a den of Satan’s, you understand.
Being able to see others people’s sins while being oblivious to your own, or willing to minimize your own, is classic hypocritical behavior.
Now, it’s fascinating to me that the Lord’s prayer doesn’t speak to other people’s sins, or debts, or transgressions. You noticed that, right?
The prayer focuses on the pray-er, that is you and I – and suggests we ask, forgive my sins, and depending on your reading, help me forgive others, or perhaps more scary, to forgive my sins to the same degree I forgive the sins of others.
The prayer does assume that other people sin, and that other people may sin against us.
But the focus of Jesus’ prayer in our sins, and our attitude toward sinners.
Now, if perhaps you are struggling with this, Jesus parable about the Prodigal Son, as it is called, comes to the rescue.
The younger son asks for his inheritance the story says, and manages to blow it on wild living. Jesus’ details in the story make it particularly juicy.
Younger son blows it and ends up so low that he has to tend pigs to make ends meet, an absolute low point for a Jewish man.
On the other hand, the older son stays home and is a good boy - except perhaps for his attitude. He is not the sinner – or perhaps so he thinks.
And dad, the God figure here, is forgiving. What motives the forgiveness is the dad’s love for his children, both of them.
Now the context suggests that Jesus is making sure that the tax collectors and other sinners who are following him understand that no matter how far you may have fallen from holiness, no matter how much of a debtor you are – sinner or transgressor - God loves you and stands ready to forgive you.
And welcome you home!
I watched a video of a preacher the other day online who described a conversation with a young guy who wanted to know if in order to follow Jesus he had to give up smoking pot, and showed the preacher a blunt the size of a massive cigar.
And the preacher said, Jesus does care how you come, in what condition, and what baggage you’re carrying.
Jesus only cares that you come.
Then you and he can talk about all those bags.
Just like that Prodigal Son.
What matters is not what had happened, but that he came home.
Period. End of story.
But for many of us, maybe most of us, we are not the Prodigals!
We are the older brothers who struggle to see our debts, transgressions and sins, and so struggle to see God’s forgiveness.
Not understanding our own sins and therefore forgiveness tempts us to think we are holier than our brothers and sisters.
And perhaps makes us judgmental, unable to see our own hypocrisy, and robs us of the generous spirit that would in fact draw us closer to our father, enable us to be more like our God.
It’s true, in order to be forgiven you have to be able to perceive your sin.
Sometimes the sin is easy to see. Sometimes the sin is much more subtle.
But until we can see, “that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God…” as Paul reminds us in the book of Romans, we will also fall short of understanding the amazing love of God that is forgiveness, a gift given to us in order that we might share it as liberally as God himself does.
So, are you a debtor, a transgressor, or a sinner?
I hope so.
And I hope you have not only received the gift of forgiveness…
But that you are sharing it!