“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matthew 6:12)
About twenty-five years ago, I went fishing in a place I wasn’t supposed to be. It was winter. Snow was on the ground, but the sun was shining and the temperature reached the mid-50’s. I had fishing fever…a recurring malady of mine. I knew a lake where there was warm water from a power plant discharged into it and people fished there year round.
When I arrived, I saw “No Trespassing” signs posted on fences to keep people from going into an area within two hundred yards of the warm water discharge. I dutifully fished for a while outside the fence line, but I noticed two people fishing in the forbidden zone. I saw them catching fish.
The fever made me delirious and I climbed the fence. When I’m in my right mind, I don’t do things like that. For twenty minutes, I caught fish after fish, largemouth bass. But my conscience overcame my fever and said, “Get out of here. You’re sinning.” So I left…with a big smile on my face. If trespassing is wrong, I didn’t want to be right.
As I drove away, the fever came back. “What are you doing, Paul? This is the best fishing you’ve experienced in ten years. Go back!”
I relented and went back. This time, it was crappie that were biting. As I put my twenty-first fish into the fish basket, two men in green outfits and sporting Fish and Wildlife badges came walking over the hill. I had to release the fish, received a citation for violating the law, and paid a fine of $86. I suffered the consequences for my indiscretion.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray to be forgiven for our trespasses. So what does it mean “to trespass” anyway? When I think of trespassing, I think of going onto someone’s property who doesn’t want you there – violating the rights, privileges, property, personal space, or dignity of another person. Another way to put it, their bubble—the space that surrounds them that protects them from possible harm, whether real or imagined, physical or mental.
You can step on someone’s turf intentionally or you can be unaware that your actions are causing harm. It doesn’t matter if I agree or not that my actions are harmful. What was I hurting by fishing a little closer to the warm water discharge? Yet it’s trespassing because you either have not been given freedom or permission to be in that space, or you have not been considerate of the individual’s desires. Either way, trespassing is a violation of someone’s wishes and carries consequences.
This petition, in the Aramaic form, is one of my favorites. Listen to the ways others have translated it from Aramaic into English:
Waschboklân chaubên wachtahên aikâna
daf chnân schwoken l’chaijabên.
Detach the fetters of faults that bind us (karma), like we let go the guilt of others. (karma – the force produced by a person’s actions in one of their lives which influences what happens to them in their future lives)
Untangle the knots within so that we can mend our hearts’ simple ties to each other.
As Thou dost forgive us our trespasses, so may we forgive others who trespass against us.
And from the Kadish (from the Talmud): The holy men of old said, Remit and forgive unto all men whatsoever they have done against me.
Some people understand karma as referring to previous lives as in the reincarnation of our souls from one person to another over hundreds or thousands of years. But why wouldn’t it also apply to the phases of life from birth to death? “Don’t let the things I did as a teenager severely impact what I do today.” “Forgive me for not being as good a parent/child as I should have been.” I’m a different person today (I hope). Release the baggage I carry from mistakes I made when I was foolish, or out of my mind with fishing fever. Forgive me what I did last week.
If you want to be a politician, the fetters of your faults had better be very few because they will follow you like tar on a piece of cotton cloth.
Another meaning of the Greek word for “forgive” is “to release” or “to let go.” Let go of my faults, or at least, don’t hold them against me. Reduce the consequences if at all possible. Have mercy. The best way to reduce the consequences for sin is to avoid trespassing into the protective bubbles of others. Respect the personal property and emotions of others. Then they won’t have any reason to retaliate.
“In the same way, Lord, when someone trespasses on my feelings, my property, my space, give me a merciful spirit that does not need an eye for an eye to restore my peace.”
Untangle the knots within – so true. When someone hurts me, every time I remember the hurt I add another knot to the cord. Help me loosen up, to consider why people act the way they do, and to know that hurt people hurt people. Let me see deeper into their actions so I take it less personally and can show mercy.
Help me forgive (let go) the sins I have a tendency to commit. Every action has a consequence. I suppose that’s another way of saying karma. “Help me build up good karma by producing fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Against these there is no law” (Gal. 5:23). And let me enjoy the karma that comes from them = eternal life.