TRESPASSES (The Our Father, Word by Word)

July 12, 2011 | 5 comments

Our Father Who Art in Heaven, Hallowed Be Thy Name.
Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done,
On Earth As it Is in Heaven. Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread. Forgive Us Our Trespasses…

Have you ever been in debt? Like big, looming, debt that makes you feel suffocated and trapped? I have. And I think of that experience every time I read this word of the Our Father.

Many versions of the Bible use the word debts instead of trespasses here, and when I pray the Our Father I sometimes substitute that word. For one thing, it helps me avoid falling into rote recitation to use a different term than I’m used to. But the biggest reason is that I have a visceral reaction to the word debt.

Shortly after we were married, my husband and I started a business. It involved taking on some debt, as starting a business often does, and we were confident that we’d quickly pay it off. But then a perfect storm of events came together to throw everything off course, and our debt started piling up faster than we could pay it off. Eventually it all worked out, but for a couple of years there things were really tough, and I knew the sinking feeling of walking around under the weight of debt.

So when I pray this word in the Our Father, it strikes me just what a bold statement Jesus allows us to make here. Forgive us our debts. Really? We can be so bold as to just ask for this? Imagine calling up someone whom you owed a large amount of money and asking him to forget about it. It would be humbling, maybe even terrifying. Your fingers would shake as you dialed the phone. Your heart would race as you considered that you were about to ask for something utterly undeserved. Our debt to God is deeper and infinitely larger than any sum of money, and yet this is exactly what we do each time we pray the Our Father!

I’m spiritually immature enough that I have a stronger gut reaction to concrete concepts like money than to spiritual concepts like sin, so, even though it’s not a perfect analogy, remembering the roller coaster of emotions that came with being in debt helps me wrap my mind around this part of the Our Father. Reliving that burdened, heavy feeling that came with owing a lot of money helps me feel the consequences of my sins. And then I recall how it felt when the last of the debt was finally gone, that overwhelming relief and explosive joy that was like being a prisoner set free from a dungeon. It’s a cliche, but it really felt like the first day of the rest of my life.

It’s stunning to consider that God offers this same thing to us every day, for a debt incomprehensibly larger. Only, unlike financial debt, there’s no interest, no forms to fill out, no checks to write. There’s only one condition to this gift, and it’s incredibly simple: that we be willing to do the same for those who are in debt to us. As long as we are willing to do that one thing, the freedom and exhilaration of having all our debts forgiven is available to us at any time, and all we have to do is ask.


  1. priest's wife

    Did you write this while in a newborn fog? Amazing!

  2. Kimberlie

    I know that weight. I am living under it right now. We took a loan to complete our last adoption thinking it would just be for a couple of months until we got our tax refund (with our adoption tax credit). We had no idea that the IRS would decide that they were going to audit EVERYONE who took the adoption tax credit this year. Four months after submitting our tax return we are STILL waiting for our refund (which we know we will eventually get) but in the meantime, loan repayment, car repairs, school tuition payments all hang in the balance. It keeps me up at night.

    I wish the weight of my sin would keep me up every night like that debt hanging over my head. Maybe since reading your post it will. Thank God for confession!

  3. Maria

    Thanks Jen! I am humbled with this. You are amazing!

  4. Keystone

    I picked up a book at the library by random. I have been under doctor treatment and sleep days at a time. Restless, I need to read. My eyes spotted “Jesus of Nazareth”, by Pope Benedict XVI.

    He authors a dissection of the Lord’s prayer within.
    I opened the book at random today and he is coving “Trespass” within.
    So I went back to the beginning to see how the Pope started this dialog/discussion.

    He begins with “FATHER”.
    Instead of breakdown by word, he breaks down the prayer by sections called petitions.
    “Our Father Who art In Heaven” is first.
    He writes on “Father”:
    “We begin with the salutation Father…………..”The Our Father begins with a great consolation: we are allowed to say ‘Father’. This ONE word contains the whole history of redemption. We are allowed to say “Father”, because the Son was our brother and has revealed the Father to us; because, thanks to what Christ has done, we have once more become children of God”

    Fast forward to where I randomly opened:

    “The fifth petition of the Our father presupposes a world in which there is trespass— trespass of men in relation to other men, trespass in relation to God. Every instance of trespass among men involves some kind of injury to truth and to love and is thus opposed to God, who IS truth and love. How to overcome guilt is a central question for every human life; the history of religions revolves around this question. Guilt calls forth retaliation. The result is a chain of trespasses in which the evil of guilt grows ceaselessly and becomes inescapable. With this petition, the Lord is telling us that guilt can be overcome only by forgiveness, not by retaliation. God is a God who forgives because He loves His creatures; but forgiveness can only penetrate and become effective in one who is himself forgiving.

    Many paragraphs in the Bible,…… then this!

    If we want to understand the petition fully and make it our own, we must go one step further and ask: What is forgiveness, really? What happens when forgiveness takes place? Guilt is a reality, an objective force; it has caused destruction that must be repaired. For this reason, forgiveness must be more than a matter of ignoring, of merely trying to forget. Guilt must be worked through, healed, and thus overcome. Forgiveness exacts a price—first of all from the person who forgives. He must overcome within himself the evil done to him; he must, as it were, burn it interiorly and in so doing renew himself. As a result, he also involves the other, the trespasser, in this process of transformation, of inner purification, and both parties, suffering all the way through and overcoming evil, are made new. At this point, we encounter the mystery of Christ’s Cross. But the very first thing we encounter is the limit of our power to heal and to overcome evil. We encounter the superior power of evil, which we can not master without unaided powers.

    Reinhold Schneider says “evil lives in a thousand forms; it occupies the pinnacles of power…it bubbles up from the abyss. Love has just one form—your Son”

    Although this is page 300, I am off to bed to read the Pope on this endeavor…from page one. May this inspire all of you to seek the Pope’s writing on “Jesus of Nazareth”.


    Hello, just wanted to mention, I liked this post. It was helpful. Keep on posting!

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