This week marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi camp Auschwitz. I heard the story of Eva Mozes Kor in a documentary I watched about survivors. Eva’s story stuck out to me. Her parents and 2 older sisters were exterminated in the camp. She and her twin sister were subjected to medical experiments in the camp. Eva founded an organization to connect other twins who had undergone the experiments, to educate others about the Auschwitz tragedies, and to teach forgiveness. Eva received a lot of attention years ago when she pronounced that she forgave the Nazis for what they had done to her.
Her radical forgiveness is a remarkable example of the Jewish value of forgiveness. I am presenting you with an example of the Jewish power of forgiveness because Jesus was a Jew, He read the Jewish Scriptures and taught in the Jewish tradition. Eva’s forgiveness of the Jews follows the call to forgiveness in the Old Testament.
There are equally the number of the word forgive in the Old and New Testament. In the Old Testament, all but one of the uses are by a prophet announcing God will forgive the people of Israel. Most of the New Testament references to forgiveness also refer to God’s willingness to forgive sin. The Lord’s Prayer is the first teaching about forgiveness in the New Testament about forgiveness.
The one reference in the Old Testament regarding to a person forgiving another is the story of Joseph of Genesis chapter 50. Jacob is said to have asked Joseph to forgive his brothers for selling him into slavery. Joseph does forgive his brothers and is reconciled to his family. This is the first reference to a person forgiving another in the Old Testament, but not the first example of forgiveness. Joseph’s father Jacob was the recipient of his brother, Esau’s forgiveness after Esau welcomed his brother Jacob back after Jacob had stolen Esau’s blessing and birthright.
There is another example of forgiveness in King David forgiving King Saul for attempting to murder him. King David showed favor to King Saul’s family and household by elevating Saul’s servant Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9) giving him land and a place at the king’s table. There are stories in the Old Testament that teach the value of forgiveness without using the word forgive. That value is what Eva Mozes Kor drew on when forgiving the Nazis. It is a value so important to the Jewish faith that Jesus included it in his first recorded teaching.
Following the tradition of Jewish rabbis, Jesus teaches His Disciples a short prayer as an example of how they might pray. At the center of the prayer is forgiveness. “And forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors.” Or “forgive us our sin as we forgive those who sin against us.” We use sins; others use debts or trespasses. I don’t think that word is all that important. The important word is forgive.
Jesus follows His prayer teaching with 2 verses that may not get much attention often. “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But, if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Jesus is teaching that somehow our receiving God’s forgiveness for our sins is tied to forgiving others.
The Gospel of Matthew has a lot to say about forgiveness. Matthew uses the Greek word for forgive more than any other New Testament book. Jesus’ teaching of forgiveness begins with the Lord’s Prayer and is exemplified throughout His ministry according to Matthew. Four times, Jesus is said to forgive a person’s sins leading to their healing and restoration.
Jesus teaches that there are 2 elements of forgiveness. God forgives our sin and we forgive those who sin against us. In that, we learn that we sin against God when we sin. Our sin isn’t just against others. When we sin against others, we sin against God, because we are not treating others as we would like to be treated or with the respect due to one of God’s children. Like God forgives our sins against Him, we should forgive those who sin against us.
So, what does it mean that we pray, “forgive us as we forgive others”?
We are telling God that receiving His forgiveness is related to our willingness to forgive. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, do we realize that we are proclaiming that God’s forgiveness is tied up with our forgiveness of others?
The Lord’s Prayer is a bold prayer commanding God to provide, forgive and protect. It does not say, “Please provide, forgive, and protect us”. It does not say, “Will you provide, forgive, and protect us.” We pray, “provide, forgive and protect us.” In our boldness before God, we exclaim that God’s forgiveness is wrapped up in our willingness to forgive.
Our petitions are made within the context of a previous request, “your Kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven.” If we are asking for God to “provide, forgive and protect us”, this is necessary on Earth, but not necessary in Heaven. God will provide for us in Heaven, but we need provision here. God has forgiven our sins in Heaven, but forgiveness on Earth is necessary between brothers and sisters. We won’t need protection from evil in Heaven for Heaven is free from evil, but evil abounds here.
If we didn’t need provision, forgiveness and protection, the Kingdom of God will have come to Earth as it is in Heaven. But, the Kingdom has not come so we are in need. Part of God’s kingdom coming to Earth is provision for everyone, forgiveness and reconciliation for everyone, and the freedom from evil. Forgiveness seems the most important part of that prayer because Jesus follows up with those verses about God’s forgiveness being related to our willingness to forgive.
It should not be lost that we pray for forgiveness as a community. We, as a community, with one voice, pray together, to “Our Father.” We recognize that God’s Kingdom is not on Earth as it is in Heaven. We recognize our need for provision, forgiveness, and protection. We make these requests as a community as we pray “Our Father” about “us.” We don’t say, “My Father…provide for me…forgive me…protect me.” We pray, “Our Father…provide for us…forgive us…protect us.” The whole of this prayer acknowledges that we understand that God’s forgiveness is related to our willingness to forgive others. Its not our personal willingness. Forgiveness should be valued by the whole community who are all children of God.
I’d like us to pray the Lord’s Prayer again. While we do, let’s pay attention to the words of the prayer.
“Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed by 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 sins as we forgive others and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
We as a community are bound together in Christian love, because we gather as a community, worship God together and pray together.
I’d like us to recognize our connection to one another by praying for each other. I’ve written the name of each of our church members on a piece of paper and placed it in these baskets. I’m going to pass the basket. I’d like you to take a piece of paper, check that it isn’t your name and pass the basket. I invite you to pray for that person over the next month. If there are any names left, I’ll pray for those people. You may not know what that person needs. That person may not be sick or grieving, but they will benefit from our prayers.