In our Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus teaches His disciples about prayer. The lesson culminates in what we call the "Lord’s Prayer," or the "Our Father." In the first verse of our reading, Jesus says, "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 important to remember, because it’s very easy to see prayer as trying to persuade God to attend to our needs and wants. But if we listen to Jesus, we realize, once again, that we can trust in God’s love for us, and prayer is not only a way for us to communicate our needs to God, but it is to open us up to hearing God’s will for us.
When we see prayer in that light, we begin to perceive how radical a prayer the "Our Father" really is. For me, the most radical part of that prayer is, "…and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." As we look at the conflicts going on in our world, at the political divisions in our own country, and even isolated incidents such as the shooting in Huntsville, AL, or the man crashing his plane into the IRS building, forgiveness remains a daunting challenge and a radical concept.
But as difficult as it can be (and it can be very difficult), we cannot get away from Jesus’ command to forgive. Jesus even goes so far as to say, "If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions." Thank God that God is always ready to forgive, and that Jesus died for the forgiveness of our sins! Thank God that we are given the grace to forgive, if we ask for it! In the words of our first reading from Isaiah, may Jesus’ words about forgiveness "achieve the end" for which it was sent to our hearts.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P. is pastor of St. Mary’s Parish, Fairfield, Alabama.