At Virginia-Highland Church, though we prefer the version of the Lord’s Prayer found in the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer, we currently are praying the traditional “trespass” version. We balance the language by addressing God as “mother” in our call to prayer, which I wrote 20 years ago.
In light of the miracle of Pentecost, when everyone heard the Gospel in their own tongue, it is good that we are able to pray the Lord’s Prayer in different ways. Still, whether you pray “debts” or “trespasses,” you cannot avoid a central tenet of what Jesus is trying to teach us about prayerful living: Forgiveness isn’t optional. There are some things about which the Bible obfuscates, but this is not one of them. Jesus couldn’t be more plainspoken: You can ask only for the amount of forgiveness that you are willing to give.
Of course, forgiveness is much harder to practice than to preach. As a progressive public figure preaching in the South, I have had an awful lot to forgive in my life, and, as a passionate leader, I probably also have a lot that needs forgiveness. So, I know from personal experience that it’s hard, but I find some comfort and encouragement from the fact that, when giving us this model for prayer, Jesus acknowledges, right up front, that we are going to need to pray regularly for forgiveness.
Somewhere along the way, many of us got the impression that perfection was expected of us. We feel ashamed when we mess up, so we hide our flaws and rationalize our mistakes. This fearful secrecy erodes any peace or serenity we might hope for and aborts any chance for healing and transformation.
Jesus makes it clear that, whenever we pray, whatever words we use, we need to pray for forgiveness. Jesus assumes we’ll trespass upon the lives of others, so he teaches us to pray about it. Jesus was more honest about our flaws than most of us can be. Confessing them and asking for forgiveness is the first step to healing, and that begins with awareness that God already knows you needs it.
Rev. Michael Piazza