Remember that prayer that Jesus taught his followers to pray? Here's a quick refresher:
"This, then, is how you should pray:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed by your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be down,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil." (Matt. 6:9-13)
The reason I'm posting about this prayer is because we 21st Century people need a refresher in its ancient context. In fact, our domesticated version of "forgiveness of debts" has big implications for contemporary I$$UE$.
You see, when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he was firstly not simply teaching a way to talk to God, but actually a way to learn God's will for humanity. The Church has a saying in Latin: lex orandi lex credendi - the law of prayer is the law of belief. This was the same idea in 1st Century Judaism: what you prayed is what you believed is what you lived. So, firstly, Jesus actually expected that whoever prayed this prayer way would live it out. Imagine that.
Secondly, Jesus taught his followers to forgive debts. But what kind of debts? Was he talking about moral infractions or inner, ungodly thoughts? Perhaps. But more likely, Jesus was actually talking about money. Yes, you heard correctly, money.
For those of you who think Jesus and money mix like oil and water, listen up. The word Jesus uses for "debt" is the word , which meant firstly a material debt or something owed legally; and only secondly a metaphor for "sin." The word that Jesus uses for "forgive" is the verb , which means to give up a debt, forgive, or remit. This was the word used to talk about monetary debt forgiveness.
John Howard Yoder adds:
Accurately, the word of the Greek text signifies precisely a monetary debt, in the most material sense of the term. In the "Our Father," then, Jesus is not simply recommending vaguely that we might pardon those who have bothered us or made us trouble, but tells us purely and simply to erase the debts of those who ow us money; that which is to say, practice the jubilee. [from The Politics of Jesus p. 62]
Even more crazy: the very next words from Jesus after the prayer are about forgiveness of debts; only this time a different word for "debt" is used! The word in verses 14 and 15 for "debt" is the word , which means a kind of moral lapse. So why the difference? Perhaps it is because there is indeed a difference between our contemporary Bibles' use of "debt" and "debt." In the one case Jesus is talking about literal, monetary debt. In another case Jesus is talking about the debt of immoral behavior.
Biblical scholar Craig Keener writes this about the Lord's Prayer:
Biblical law required the periodic forgiveness of monetary debtors (in the seventh and fiftieth years), so the illustration of forgiving debts would have been a graphic one (especially since Jewish lawyers had found a way to circumvent the release of debts so that creditors could continue to lend). [IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 62]
What? Jewish law taught to forgive monetary debt? It's been a while since your pastor preached on that one, huh? Well it's true. Check it out for yourself.
And not only did Jewish law teach the forgiveness of monetary debt, but Jesus taught his followers to pray for it every damn day. It starts to make one wonder who is really trying to follow Jesus in this age...