The other night Beve, E and I went to a basketball game at his high school. The Squalicum boys are ranked first in the state, their only loss to a California team that was first in the nation at the time. They're pretty entertaining to watch, too--great passes, amazing moves to the hole, heighth and speed exactly where they need it. But that night, most of my attention was directed at the bench, rather than the court. See, every game in the league was dedicated to the fight against cancer. "Coaches against cancer" was the slogan on every coach's t-shirt, and the visiting team that night wore pink socks (I'm thinking that might be part of the reason they lost!). And on every team's bench sat a person who had been touched by the disease.
Beve had told me who the guest coach was supposed to be that night, but when we walked into the gym, my breath caught. Right at the end of the bench sat a small wheelchair with a frail 8-year-old boy sitting in it. Beside him sat his parents. This little boy has been struggling with deadly brain tumors for the last two years, and just last week, after taking a pan of cinnamon rolls to the family, Beve told me the end is near. Very near.
But that night, that little boy who can no longer hear very well, nor see much better, can't walk, nor speak clearly, called the first play in the game (a three-pointer), drank orange soda and was an enthusiastic coach, for all his handicaps, giving high-fives to players, cheering them on. His mom spent the entire game with a white board, telling him the head coach was yelling in the huddle, what others were saying to him. His father took pictures of him leaning close to his momma, bent down to lift him up for the national anthem, and, at one point I watched as little Kyle held his hand to his daddy's cheek, tenderly stroking it. Between them, those parents were ever attentive. By the end, I think they had more pictures of him than I've taken on a month's trip to Europe.
But here's the thing: those two adults are divorced. In fact, though I don't know the details, it was a rather acrimonious split. But a few weeks ago, the dad moved back into the family home for the duration. And--even his girlfriend has helped out, and stayed with them at times. Whatever was between those two people, whatever anger, hurt, bitterness they held/hold, they've put it aside to love their little boy (and his hurting 10-year-old brother!). To watch their son breathe for the final days of his life. I can't say, of course, that they've forgiven each other, but I'm telling you, from where I sat, they were as good a picture of it as I've ever seen.
I think about the petition in the Lord's prayer, "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us," In a life and death situation, the decision to put aside grievances might be an easier thing than it is at other times, but even in the most ordinary moments, it's central to becoming who God meant us to be--loving, generous, intent on others rather than ourselves. To pray for--and receive--forgiveness is the most transforming thing that happens to us. IN OUR ENTIRE LIVES. It's also the boldest petition in the prayer. I'm not overstating this. "While we are alive, there is not a single hour, day or night, when we are not a debtor," the theologian Origen said. "Forgive us our debt," Jesus tells us to pray. We have to admit we are debtors--sinners--before we can be forgiven. That's part of this petition. We must recognize the debt we owe the Father. Our world tells us we can get by on tolerance, or a general, superficial, 'I'm sorry.'
But read the story of the Prodigal Son and His Forgiving Father (Luke 15:11-23). You can't read it without seeing how deep the Father's forgiveness is--the running, embracing, celebrating Father. Nor how deep the repentance of the son--the 'let me be a servant, I'll do whatever it takes' son. This true repentance and true forgiveness is what we're called to pray for in the Lord's prayer.
But this is only half of the petition. It's the second half that usually has us squirming in our seats. It had me squirming the other night as I watched it lived out in front of me by those two grieving parents. "As we forgive our debtors." This part of the prayer commits us to act toward others as God acts toward us. To BE Christ to others. There has been, over the centuries, quite a debate about whether the proposition here should be 'as' or 'because' or even have the element of 'to the degree that...'. Martin Luther, in fact, believed that if we don't forgive others, we're actually praying, "Father, don't forgive me!" So the question is, is God's forgiveness contingent on our forgiving others?
No. That's the short answer. God sent Jesus to the cross to redeem us. To FORGIVE us. It makes me uncomfortable to say this, because I'd like to add condistions, but it's Biblical that it is simply and utterly about Jesus Christ and who He is that is the cause--the Incarnation!!!--of our forgiveness by God.
However, we are called to live a life worthy of the gospel--the good news of this forgiveness!!! We are called to forgive. If we are committed to living as Christ, we must live a forgiving life. We cannot pray this prayer and not forgive. It's that simple. In other words, if you are praying this prayer, and holding something against someone in your life, you are lying.
The hour is short, perhaps. There are people dying around us, and we will miss the chance to love them, if we're so busy holding things against each other. How do you want to spend your days? Being a picture of bitterness? Or of love?