Remember that standardized test we took every year? The one we were warned about weeks ahead of time? The one that was so important that it was sealed and handed to you with a shiny new #2 Ticonderoga pencil? (Your hard-bitten, stubby, generic pencil from home would not do.)
The questions were confusing. To make it worse, each section was timed. Knowing time would be called long before I was done always sent me into a panic.
My least favorite was the Math section. There was always that maddening problem about the two trains, one going East, the other going West, at different speeds. It could be solved with a simple equation, but I was always distracted by images of colliding trains.
Runner-up was the reading comprehension section. At the top of the page was a dry, if not tedious, paragraph followed by multiple choice questions designed to measure how well you understood what you had just read. The worst was always: “Which of the following best describes the central idea of this paragraph? “ My anxiety over selecting the right answer was increased by the instruction that preceded the test stating, “In many cases, there is no right answer. For these questions, select the best answer.” To my disappointment, neither “ There is no point to this paragraph” nor “Who gives a rip!” were ever offered as choices.
Is it any wonder that I have missed the central point of a paragraph I have known by heart my entire life? I’m talking about the Lord’s Prayer. In particular, the line “Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
I have always thought of that line as a two-item list; bread and forgiveness. Reciting the prayer during the Rosary recently, it occurred to me that we are in fact asking for both the bread and the forgiveness daily. That we need God’s grace and forgiveness not just on occasion, but on a daily basis.
It suggests to me that our responsibility to forgive others is not just “as needed,” but a daily obligation.
It makes sense when you think about it. Since we offend God on a daily basis, we would hope forgiveness occurs with the same frequency. But forgiving people daily? That’s a tall order. Especially when you consider that we sometimes have to forgive people for the same thing over and over again.
Husbands, wives, parents and children trespass against each other countless times each day. We get after each other for the same things day after day. If we can’t give our spouses and children a clean slate to work with each day, anger and resentment accumulate. In time that becomes the focus of relationships rather than the love you share.
The workplace is a challenge as well. The office gossip, the chronic braggart, the taker of undeserved credit and even the break-room taker of others’ lunches must be forgiven daily. Gnawing on the bones of contention you have with coworkers will make your job a living hell.
Harder still is the fact that most forgiveness must be done in private. You must be able to forgive when no transgression has been acknowledged nor any apology offered. Think about it. Telling your spouse or coworker that you forgive them for something out of the blue is a great way to start an argument, not resolve one.
To think that it only took me fifty years to comprehend a twenty-word sentence.
Can I put my pencil down now?
Question: Most translations of Matthew 6: 9-15 use the term debt rather than trespass. How does that alter our understanding of this prayer?
Copyright 2015 Kirk Whitney.
Photo courtesy of Kirk Whitney. All rights reserved.