Forgiveness in the The Lord’s Prayer

Forgive thy neighbour the hurt that he hath done unto thee, so shall thy sins also be forgiven when thou prayest (Sirach 28:2).

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors (Matt 6:12).

This is without a doubt the most intriguing of the quotations from the Apocrypha, as it forms part of what has come down to us as The Lord’s Prayer, or the Our Father. This is not a pure quotation, but neither is it simply an allusion to the passage from Sirach. Instead, Jesus is inverting the two clauses from Sirach, creating what are parallel statements — a characteristic of Hebrew poetry. The one clause supports and interprets the other. Therefore, we cannot interpret the statement from The Lord’s Prayer without referring to its antecedent thought from Sirach.

A typical Protestant understanding of this passage is found in Dr. David Scaer’s book, The Sermon on the Mount. He writes:

The Matthean version of the Prayer does not suggest that God’s forgiving us is caused by our forgiving others; the word “as” is used, not “because.” “As” means “like” or “similar.” We ask that God would forgive us as, not because we forgive others. Some hold the view that our forgiving precedes God’s, but this is done more from a theological and not a grammatical consideration.[1]

This is only correct if we do not consider the source for this particular clause in The Lord’s Prayer. In Sirach’s version, forgiveness of the neighbor is necessary for your prayers of forgiveness to be heard. The argument could be made that Jesus was providing a corrective to the statement in Sirach. That is a theological judgement, not a textual one. Sirach’s interpretation is demonstrated in Matthew’s gospel by the Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor (Matt 18:23-34). A servant owed his master a great debt and asked to be forgiven. When the servant refused to forgive a minor debt owed to him, the master refused to forgive the servant. Jesus sums up the parable by saying: “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (Matt 18:35). Jesus is indicating that the passage from Sirach represents the proper interpretation –God forgives us in like fashion as we forgive others. The apostle writes: “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Ro 5:10). Forgiving our enemies is the essence of a Christ-like life.

Blessed Theophylact, in his commentary The Gospel According to St. Matthew, writes:

Because we sin even after our baptism, we beseech Him to forgive us. But forgive us as we forgive others: if we remember wrongs, God will not forgive us. God takes me as the pattern He will follow: what I do to another, He does to me.[2]

God, therefore, respects our free will. He does not respond in kind, but responds overabundantly. When we truly repent — when we truly change our mind, rejecting the evil and seeking the good — the angels rejoice and the Holy Spirit fills us, empowering us for service. When we seek God half-heartedly, we quench the Holy Spirit and God seems far from us. It is all God’s work and none of ours. Nothing we do is meritorious in and of itself. But God is merciful, bestowing great mercy upon us at the least sign that we are responsive to Him, and that we desire communion with Him. This, then, is the meaning of the forgiveness clause in The Lord’s Prayer.

  1. (Scaer, The Sermon on the Mount 2000, 184)
  2. (Blessed Theophylact 1992, 58)

Take My Yoke Upon You (Mat 11:28-30)

"The Flower Carrier" (1935) by Diego Rivera.

“The Flower Carrier” (1935) by Diego Rivera.

Take My Yoke Upon You (Mat 11:28-30)

Draw near unto me, ye unlearned, and dwell in the house of learning. Wherefore are ye slow, and what say ye to these things, seeing your souls are very thirsty? I opened my mouth, and said, Buy her for yourselves without money. Put your neck under the yoke, and let your soul receive instruction: she is hard at hand to find. (Sirach 51:23-26)

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Mat 11:28-30)

The scholar Henry Chadwick states: “Among Greek-speaking Christians …The wisdom of Ben Sira became so popular that in the west it acquired the title ‘Ecclesiasticus’, and a famous saying of Jesus in Matt 11:28 directly quotes from Sirach 51:27.” Chadwick is speaking of the following verse: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

In our day we speak of blue collar and white collar workers. This tends to mean those who work with their hands, and those who work at their desks. In general, white collar work requires a greater degree of education than does blue collar work. This distinction was even more pronounced in Jesus’ day, when literacy was rare; when most people were unlearned, and therefore laborers.

The two passages are not direct quotations; Jesus is restating the verse from Sirach. This is parallelism, a literary technique used in Hebrew poetry, and would have been familiar to Jesus’ audience. The call to the unlearned to dwell in the house of learning is a call for them to rest from their labors. But the context of Sirach is even more interesting. Chapter 51 is a prayer, and beginning at verse 13 Jesus ben Sirach begins to describe his search for wisdom. Thus when Jesus is quoting from Sirach, he is identifying Himself as Wisdom incarnate.

This connection between Jesus and Wisdom becomes even clearer when we discover Jesus’ reference to the yoke comes from Sirach injunction to “Put your neck under the yoke.” In Sirach, this is the yoke of Wisdom; in Matthew, the yoke of Wisdom belongs to Jesus. It is His yoke, it is His burden. He, Jesus, is Wisdom personified, and only in Him do we find rest for our souls.

The Magnificat and its Old Testament Referents

Visitation ( visit of the Blessed Virgin Mary with Saint Elizabeth, Virgin Mary shown pregnant ), 14th century  Wallpaintings, Timios Stavros Church in Pelendri, included in the UNESCO World Heritage List

The Visitation of the Virgin Mary to Elizabeth

The Magnificat (Luk 1:46-55)

The Lord hath cast down the thrones of proud princes, and set up the meek in their stead. (Sirach 10:14)

He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. (Luk 1:52)

Abraham was a great father of many people: in glory was there none like unto him. (Sirach 44:19)

As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever. (Luk 1:55)

Mary’s Magnificat is one of the most notable prayers in all of Scripture. It is noteworthy for many things, not least of which is that it is filled with quotations from or allusions to scripture. Therefore, in context, it would be hard to say that a citation from Sirach is not scripture, when everything else quoted or alluded to is. Here is the text of the Magnificat, verse by verse, with all its Old Testament quotations and allusions.[1]

  • 46  And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,

o    1 Sa 2:1 My heart rejoices in the LORD; in the LORD my horn is lifted high.

o    Ps 34:2,3 My soul will boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together.

o    Ps 103:1 Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

  • 47  And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

o    Ps 18:46b Exalted be God my Savior!

o    Isa 61:10 I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.

  • 48a  For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden:

o    1 Sam 1:11 And she vowed a vow, and said, O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the LORD all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.

o    Ps 138:6 Though the LORD is on high, he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar.

  • 48b  for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

o    Gen 30:13 And Leah said, Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed: and she called his name Asher.

o    Luk 1:28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

o    Luk 1:42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.

  • 49a  For he that is mighty hath done to me great things;

o    1 Sam 2:1 And Hannah prayed, and said, My heart rejoiceth in the LORD, mine horn is exalted in the LORD: my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation.

o    Ps 71:19 Your righteousness reaches to the skies, O God, you who have done great things. Who, O God, is like you?

o    Isa 61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.

o    Hab 3:18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

  • 49b  and holy is his name.

o    1 Sa 2:2 There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you.

o    Ps 22:3 You are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel.

o    Ps 71:22b I will sing praise to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel.

o    Ps 89:18 Indeed, our shield belongs to the LORD, our king to the Holy One of Israel.

o    Ps 99:3 Let them praise your great and awesome name – he is holy.

o    Ps 103:1b Praise his holy name.

  • 50  And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.

o    Ps 103:17 From everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children.

  • 51a  He hath shewed strength with his arm;

o    Ps 89:10 Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces, as one that is slain; thou hast scattered thine enemies with thy strong arm.

  • 51b  he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

o    1 Sa 2:3 Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance, for the LORD is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed.

o    2 Sa 22:28 You save the humble, but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them low.

o    Ps 89:10 You crushed Rahab like one of the slain; with your strong arm you scattered your enemies.

  • 52a  He hath put down the mighty from their seats,

o    1 Sa 2:4 The bows of the warriors are broken (as in Pharaoh, Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, etc.)

  • 52b  and exalted them of low degree.

o    1 Sa 2:4b but those who stumbled are armed with strength.

o    1 Sa 2:8 He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor. (As in Joseph, David, Daniel, Esther, etc.)

o    Ps 113:7-8 He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill; That he may set him with princes, even with the princes of his people.

  • 53a  He hath filled the hungry with good things;

o    1 Sa 2:5b but those who were hungry hunger no more.

o    Ps 103:5 who satisfies your desires with good things.

o    Ps 107:8,9 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.

  • 53b  and the rich he hath sent empty away.

o    1 Sam 2:5 Those who were full hire themselves out for food. (Note: This is the prayer of the barren Hannah, when she was blessed with a child.)

  • 54  He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;

o    Ps 98:3;

o    Is 41:8-9

  • 55a  As he spake to our fathers,

o    Ps 25:6 Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.

o    Ps 98:3 He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to the house of Israel.

o    Ps 105:8-11 He remembers his covenant forever, the word he commanded, for a thousand generations, the covenant he made with Abraham, the oath he swore to Isaac. He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree, to Israel as an everlasting covenant: “To you I will give the land of Canaan as the portion you will inherit.”

o    Ps 136Aff. His love [mercy] endures forever.

  • 55b  to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

o    Gen 12:2-3 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

o    Ps 147:19 He has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel.

o    Mic 7:20 You will be true to Jacob, and show mercy to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our fathers in days long ago.

o    Sirach 44:19-22 Abraham was a great father of many people: in glory was there none like unto him; Who kept the law of the most High, and was in covenant with him: he established the covenant in his flesh; and when he was proved, he was found faithful. Therefore he assured him by an oath, that he would bless the nations in his seed, and that he would multiply him as the dust of the earth, and exalt his seed as the stars, and cause them to inherit from sea to sea, and from the river unto the utmost part of the land. With Isaac did he establish likewise for Abraham his father’s sake the blessing of all men, and the covenant, And made it rest upon the head of Jacob. He acknowledged him in his blessing, and gave him an heritage, and divided his portions; among the twelve tribes did he part them.

o    Other references: Gen 13:15; 22:16-18; 26:3-4; 28:13-14; Lev 26:42; Dt 1:8; 6:10; 9:5, 25, 27; Ps 105:8-10


Bibliography

Jahn, Curtis A. Exegesis and Sermon Study of Luke 1:46-55 The Magnificat. Essay, Mequon: Wisconson Lutheran Seminary, 1997, 1-15.


Endnotes

[1] The cross-references for the Magnificat come from a number of sources. The versification is from an essay by Curtis A. Jahn. (Jahn 1997, 14-15)