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)
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).