Trash buckets

Father David Epps's picture

It seems a little boy was praying the Lord’s Prayer and got to a certain point and said, “Forgive us our trash buckets as we forgive those who put trash in our buckets.” Actually, for a small child, that’s pretty good theology.

It comes as a great surprise to many that forgiving others is not optional. If fact, our own forgiveness is conditional. It is not automatic. Jesus said that His followers should pray, “And forgive us our debts (trespasses) as we also have forgiven our debtors (those who trespass against us)” (Matthew 6:12 all references are from the New American Standard Bible).

To make the matter even more clear, He also said, “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Mt. 6:14-15).

Perhaps the most powerful two-letter word in the New Testament is the word “if.” It means, in this case, a condition is imposed. “If” we forgive, we shall be forgiven. “If” we do not forgive others, forgiveness is withheld from us.

In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus actually tells a story in which someone was forgiven by a powerful authority over him and then that forgiveness was withdrawn when the man who had received forgiveness refused to forgive another. Jesus concludes the story by saying, “So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart” (Mt. 18:35).

We need to be very careful what kind of seed we sow toward others, because the truth is that we shall eat of the fruit of the seed that we sow. If we sow seed that is bitter, we shall eat the fruit of bitterness somewhere down the road.

There are many Christians and others whose lives are full of bitterness. Why? Because they were wronged? No. Because they refuse to forgive those who may truly have wronged them.

A lack of forgiveness brings into our own lives the fruit of bitterness. Someone said, “Unforgiveness is the poison we drink in the expectation that someone else will die.”

We wrongly believe that unforgiveness springs from hurt. It does not. Unforgiveness springs from pride. Pride says, “I deserve better treatment.” Pride says, “I have a right to hold this against that person.” Pride says, “I am the wronged one, the one in the right, so I have a right to hold this person accountable.”

In truth, all sin is against God (Psalm 51) and He is the one to whom vengeance belongs.

We must forgive because we ourselves cannot bear to reap what we sow. Why should we forgive? Because we are sinners and, as sinners, we stand in need of forgiveness from a just and holy God.

We always seem to want others to pay the price for their sins while we ourselves wish to obtain mercy. It simply doesn’t work that way. We reap what we sow. If we desire mercy, we must give mercy. If we desire forgiveness, we must grant forgiveness. If we desire judgment for others, the result is that we shall be judged.

We can know where we stand, and for that matter where others stand, by the words that come from our mouths. If we complain about how we have been treated by others, if we are remembering how we have been wronged, if we mention others with anger or bitterness, then we have not forgiven and we are harvesting a crop of bitterness.

In fact, we ourselves have not obtained forgiveness regardless how much we have prayed or how many priests or bishops have proclaimed absolution over us. That big word “if” does us in. “’If’ you forgive, your heavenly Father will forgive you.”

Following a night of prayer in a garden, Jesus was arrested for crimes not committed, submitted to a kangaroo court trial, was humiliated, whipped, beaten, had his beard ripped out of his face, was brutalized, tortured, his body rendered nearly unrecognizable by his captors, was spit upon, paraded through the streets, and finally nailed to wood and was exposed naked for all the city to see.

After all this, and in spite of the fact that no one involved had expressed a desire for pardon, from the cross, exhausted and near death, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

We simply must forgive those who put trash in our buckets. Too much is at stake to do otherwise.

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