Reading: Gospel of Matthew 18:21-35 & 6:12
Matt 18:21-35 Then coming up to Him, Peter said, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Until seven times? (22) Jesus said to him, I do not say to you, Until seven times, but, Until seventy times seven. (23) Because of this the kingdom of Heaven has been compared to a man, a king, who desired to take account with his slaves. (24) And he having begun to reckon, one debtor of ten thousand talents was brought near to him. (25) But he not having any to repay, the lord commanded him to be sold, also his wife and children, and all things, as much as he had, even to pay back. (26) Then having fallen down, the slave bowed the knee to him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay all to you. (27) And being filled with pity, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the loan. (28) But having gone out, that slave found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii. And seizing him, he choked him, saying, Pay me whatever you owe. (29) Then having fallen down at his feet, his fellow slave begged him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay all to you. (30) But he would not, but having gone away he threw him into prison until he should pay back the amount owing. (31) But his fellow slaves, seeing the things happening, they were greatly grieved. And having come they reported to their lord all the things happening. (32) Then having called him near, his lord said to him, Wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt, since you begged me. (33) Ought you not also to have mercy on your fellow slave, as I also had mercy? (34) And being angry, his lord delivered him up to the tormentors until he pay back all that debt to him. (35) So also My heavenly Father will do to you unless each of you from your hearts forgive his brother their deviations.
Matt 6:12 …and forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors.
This morning we come to the section of the Lord’s Prayer that deals with the idea of debt, more specifically of our being released or forgiven from our debts. This is a very important spiritual principle, one that we need a clear understanding of because it cuts right to the core of our quality of life. If we don’t understand what this concept of debt is about from a spiritual perspective we can’t really understand what we are asking for when we pray this part of the prayer, and if we don’t understand what we are asking for how can we actually do our part to see that we are brought into a right relationship as far as our lives are concerned with this idea of being in debt.Read More
The first thing we need to keep firmly in mind in dealing with this statement is that the Lord holds nothing against anyone. Any sense of a need for forgiveness that we feel doesn’t arise from the Lord separating Himself from us, but rather is the result of our need to keep a distance between what we want for ourselves and what the Lord desires for us. In and of ourselves we seek only that which is able to gratify our love of self and the love of the world. The Lord, on the other hand, is constantly seeking what is best for us and so works to see that we are released from the bondage these lower desires place upon us so that we can find our delight in a life in which we are bonded to His Word and the genuine spiritual teachings found within it. If the Lord holds nothing against anyone then it follows that we do not need to ask Him for forgiveness to gain a release from our sins for He has in fact released us before we even ask.
If we are to experience the benefits of the Lord as forgiveness or freedom from our lower selfish desires which are what actually hold us to account and seek to extract and destroy every last ounce of our spiritual inheritance, then we need to understand that until we release others from the obligations we place on them all our asking and praying for forgiveness will have very little if any spiritual benefit. The kind of debt spoken about here often manifest in people as an unhealthy sense of unworthiness grounded in feelings of self-pity, or it may come into consciousness as feelings of guilt, or an obsessive compulsion to be overly critical of oneself or of others, or perhaps an overbearing sense of perfectionism; it is these kinds of inner things often tied to a false or what is termed in the teachings of Spiritual Christianity as a spurious conscience.
This kind of conscience can be identified in a person’s need to control their environment or others and when this gets beyond their ability to cope then this false conscience goes into overdrive lifting their levels of anxiety and fear. We all experience or have experienced these kinds of things to some degree or another, what we need to come to see is that these kinds of things are in fact the effects of being in spiritual debt and they arise from a lack of trust in the Lord and a tendency to attribute what is from Him to ourselves. To be forgiven is to be released from such things, and it can only come about by handing our life over to the leading of the Lord’s Word. The law of forgiveness found in this statement from the Lord’s Prayer we are looking at this morning says we are forgiven our debts, only AS WE FORGIVE our debtors…
Notice that there is a requirement or obligation on us if we want to be free of what is represented by the spiritual idea of debt. Forgiveness is a living experience marked by a kind of lightness of being or freedom that comes from knowing and trusting implicitly in the Lord as the Word. The inference is that without a connection to the Lord as the Word a person is prone to living under a burden of mounting spiritual debt. They become more and more bound up in obsessions and compulsions as the self-imposed standards for themselves or others become more and more demanding. How might such a release be found…Well think of it in this way, it is a spiritual truth that all things are from the Lord and that these are given freely for our use in the promotion of spiritual and heavenly purposes. But because we have a free will we are able to take what the Lord has provided for higher purposes and use it to serve lower self-centred and worldly ends. This process where we justify selfish behaviours and deny what the Word requires of us in acknowledging the Lord is what is described in the following parable…
Luk 20:9-15 And He began to speak this parable to the people: A certain man planted a vineyard and let it out to vinedressers. And he left the country for long periods of time. (10) And in season, he sent a slave to the vinedressers, that they might give him the fruit of the vineyard. But the vinedressers sent him away empty, beating him. (11) And he again sent another slave. But they also sent that one away empty, beating and insulting him. (12) And he again sent a third. But they also threw this one out, wounding him. (13) And the lord of the vineyard said, What shall I do? I will send my beloved son. Perhaps, having seen this one, they will respect him. (14) And having seen him, the vinedressers reasoned with themselves, saying, This is the heir. Come let us kill him so that the inheritance may become ours. (15) And throwing him out of the vineyard, they killed him.
We can only understand the nature of the debt we incur spiritually when we take stock and consider our obligations in the light of a spiritual understanding. Every person who is of a sound mind needs to utilize their faculties in accordance with the purpose for which the Lord created them in order to experience a life that is spiritually fulfilling and meaningful. All that we have is from the Lord, so in this sense, we don’t actually own anything but everything we have belongs to the Lord. We are merely custodians, who are given charge of managing spiritual things on behalf of the Lord God our Creator. This also means that everything everyone else has is also the Lord’s as is everything we are able to pass on others as well as all that we receive from them.
But when we fail to acknowledge the Lord in this we are then prone to thinking that what we have is ours to do with as we like. Not only that but without looking to the Lord as the source of all we possess we come to see ourselves as little god’s who are able to dispense and withhold whatever we like as far as others are concerned. This places us under the law of the debtor, a law that separates us from the Lord and the freedom to be found in having our life in its proper and right relationship to spiritual things. When the Lord remains unacknowledged then life becomes a series of tit for tat petty transactions in which person A does one thing with the expectation that person B will repay them in kind.
Now it is true that the golden rule is to do to others and you would have them do to you – but it doesn’t say, do to others so that they will return in kind. Without acknowledging the Lord as the source of all we have we actually live with an attitude that says that we are owed something by life and other people. This leads to a large amount of our mental energy being sapped through negative feelings towards those we feel owe us. This is particularly true of those we feel haven’t repaid us in accordance with our expectations, and so in this sense, we end up functioning like a kind of spiritual debt collector. Internalised self-talk takes its forms in feeling we deserve to be treated better, and while we might not voice our feelings to those we feel owe us we run all sorts of scenario’s in our mind that do nothing but give place in our life to hellish influences. These ultimately manifest in subtle ways in our interactions with those we are holding to account and impact on the quality of our relationships.
The other side to this, and it stems from the same root of not acknowledging the Lord as the true owner of all that we have, is that we become subject to the expectations, or rather our perceived expectations, that others hold as far as we are concerned. This is the debt we incur when we seek to live our lives without acknowledging the Lord.
Without an understanding of the principles involved in being in spiritual debt, we are very likely to become increasingly bound by obligations we feel have been put on us that we seek to fulfil under duress, which only produces various degrees of resentment. This creates significant amounts of stress in our lives as we come under what are often self-imposed pressures to fulfil our obligations in order to fulfil the perceived expectations of others. This is where it is so important for each of us to have a clear sense of our values because until we do we will struggle to place the obligations that life seems to place on us into their proper order and perspective.
Without a clear sense of our values coupled with a supporting knowledge of spiritual principles, we end up living mentally in a world that is made up of countless numbers of petty laws and regulations that continuously nag and eat away at the fabric of our very being. We end up doing more and more because we feel we have to, not because we want to. As to our inner world, our lives consist of a whole series of little transactions in which we are seeking to balance our inner ledger by meeting demands, fulfilling obligations, anticipating our sense of what other’s expect from us, and what we feel others owe us. It’s like we are in a constant state of tension that can only be released as we fulfil our perceived obligations to others and in turn receive back what we feel we are owed. But it’s a never-ending cycle that so easily takes hold of our thoughts and feelings allowing little space to find a new healthier perspective on things.
Until we are able to see what kind of burden living like this really is we will have no desire to do what is required of us to be rid of all these petty unimportant debts so that we can attend to the real obligation life places on each and every one of us. We have a wrong idea of life when we believe it owes us something. We certainly have the wrong idea of our relationships to others if they are based on what we feel they owe us. This kind of attitude is grounded in self-interest and belongs to what is lower in us. It encourages an energy that is destructive of the spiritual bonds that healthy relationships need to grow and develop.
To get a real sense of what this living in debt is like we need to take time to reflect on the kinds of accounts we hold over others. How much time in our day is caught up in thoughts and feelings about what others should or shouldn’t be doing. How much energy do we put into feeling resentful about the demands life places on us? I don’t doubt that if we made an effort for just one day to identify such states of life active in us we would be very surprised to see just how much of our energy is wasted dwelling on such things. What we need to realise is that when our energy is in this sort of stuff it is drawing from what is of the hells, and when these dominate our faculties we shut ourselves out from being able to receive heavenly influences.
The idea of debt, spiritually speaking, has to do with the idea of being bound in a sense of obligation, whether it’s to someone, something or some power. When we begin to make sincere efforts to examine the inner world of our thoughts and feelings from our understanding of the principles of Spiritual Christianity we will come to see that a large amount of our energy is actually spent on things that have little if any lasting spiritual value. But it is in the seeing of this that opportunities for transformation are created. If we could truly see that all things are from the Lord and acknowledge Him as the source of all then we will see that life and others don’t owe us at all. We can begin to let go of the expectations we hold others to. This is what it is to forgive our debtors, and as we allow others to find freedom from our debt so we will find this grace of forgiveness for ourselves as we open our hearts to that extraordinary lightness of being that is heaven’s influence within our minds.
The Lord forgives sins to everyone but they are not on that account remitted unless a person performs serious repentance, and desists from evils, and then lives a life of faith and charity to the end of their life. When a person does this they receive spiritual life from the Lord and when, from this life, they regard the evils of their former life, and feels aversion and horror for them, then, evils are remitted; for the person is then kept in truths and goods by the Lord, and is withheld from evils.
From the work Arcana Coelestia by Emanuel Swedenborg