To Forgive is to Die; to Die is to Live in Death

A brief follow-up to my preceding post on the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt 18:21-35). I find Robert Capon’s proposal that the king’s cancellation of his servant’s debts typologically represents the death and resurrection of Christ particularly illuminating: the king abandons his role as bookkeeper and banker; he dies to his life and begins to live in death. Capon picks up this theme in his interpretation of the forgiveness clause in the Our Father:

And it happened that as he was praying, when he finished, a certain one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John too taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say, ‘Father, let your name be held sacred; let your Kingdom come; Give us each day our bread for the day ahead, And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive all who are indebted to us; and do not bring us to trial.’” (Luke 11:1-4)

Capon comments:

And that leads him [Jesus] into the heart of the prayer, the longest single topic in its brief contents. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive every one who is indebted to us.” The Gospel truth is that forgiveness comes to us because God in Jesus died to and for our sins—because, in other words, the Shep­herd himself became a lost sheep for our sake. And it is just that truth, I think, that Jesus underscores when he holds up the forgiveness of debts as the model for our imitation of his forgiving. A person who cancels a debt is a person who dies to his own rightful possession of life. Unless he does it out of mindless­ness or idiotic calculation, he cannot write off what is justly due him without accepting his own status as a loser, that is, as dead. Death and resurrection are the key to the whole mystery of our redemption. We pray in Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are forgiven in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and we forgive others in Jesus’ death and resurrection. If we attempt any of those things while still trying to preserve our life, we will never manage them. They are possible only because we are dead and our life is hid with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). And they can be celebrated by us only if we accept death as the vehicle of our life in him. (Kingdom, Grace, Judgment, p. 222)

I do not have any special wisdom to share. I only note that we must always read together the unconditional love of God and the death and resurrection of Jesus. The former is interpreted by the latter, and the latter embodies the former. Only in our embrace of the Paschal Mys­tery does genuine forgiveness of those who have trespassed against us become a possibility for us.

To forgive is to die, and only by dying can we forgive. If we refuse death, we remain enslaved to the past of injury, resentment, bitterness, anger, vengefulness. Only by the cancellation of debt can a new future be opened, not only for us but also for the one who needs our forgiveness.

To forgive is to die in Christ, and to die in Christ is to live in our death and from our death. In Christ we are the living dead. As the Apostle declares: “For you have died and your life has been hidden with the Anointed in God” (Col 3:3).

(Go to “Importuning the God of Resurrection”)

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5 Responses to To Forgive is to Die; to Die is to Live in Death

  1. Robert Fortuin says:

    “he cannot write off what is justly due him without accepting his own status as a loser, that is, as dead.”

    This may provide us insight into the profound depth and dimensions that the kenotic sacrifice the incarnation denotes to Christ, that kenotic means not merely laying down his divine attributes. His redemption moves beyond the forgiveness of a debt written off; rather, he personally becomes that loser, taking on the “status as a loser” personally in abject shame, rejection and humiliation.

    And, if I have it right, we are to take on this loser status as well.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. drjohnson51 says:

    Interesting that the quote from Luke 4 ends with not being brought to trial. While we have typically thought of this as to temptation, the linkage back to your earlier post from Matthew and being tried and judged for not forgiving debts is an interesting twist on Jesus’ prayer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Immediately following the above quote, Capon continues:

      It is just this insistence, as I see it, that leads Jesus to the last phrase of the prayer, “and do not lead us into trial [peirasmon].” Life is a web of trials and temptations, but only one of them can ever be fatal, and that is the temptation to think it is by further, better, and more aggressive living that we can have life. But that will never work. If the world could have lived its way to salvation, it would have, long ago. The fact is that it can only die its way there, lose its way there. The precise temptation, therefore, into which we pray we will not be led is the temptation to reject our saving death and try to proceed on our living own. Like the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, that is the one thing that cannot be forgiven, precisely because it is the refusal of the only box in which forgiveness is ever delivered.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Calvin says:

    …Doesn’t this imply that the mere act of attempting to preserve our lives is bad? Eating well, exercising, even breathing?


    • drjohnson51 says:

      How so Calvin? maybe I’m reading it differently to you, but I’m not thinking of it in a physical sense, so my eating, exercising and breathing are not striving for life in the way Capon is using life/death. Happy to read/hear a different perspective. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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