I’m experimenting with a new way of reading scripture: You (or, preferably, several people) read a passage aloud four times, listening to it in a new way. For instance, what word or words jump out at you? And what does this passage say that’s relevant to the world today?

I’ve taken this approach with the prayer known as the “Our Father.” And what leaps out at me, repeatedly, is the word “trespass.” Note: The word is not “sin.” Not “transgress,” “err,” or “do wrong.” Trespass. Now that’s a word I associate with tersely worded signs denoting land rights and possible encounters with angry, shotgun-wielding homesteaders, not morally hurtful behavior. Trespass. It means going over the line, encroaching. It’s so much less tangible than “sin.” How do I know I’m trespassing if I can’t see your emotional property line?

That’s what makes the surrounding part of the prayer so sweet: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Yes. It means that we are forgiven our trespasses, intentional and accidental. It also means that we forgive our trespassers — even those who don’t know they’ve trespassed, who didn’t see the line, who don’t realize they’ve stepped on metaphorical private land. You know, the ones who step on our hearts.

That’s no easy promise. And yet God freely provides that forgiveness to us…all we need do is ask! Of course, our trespassers might not respond in kind. They might not ask us for forgiveness, but that’s part of what forgiveness is. It is reconciliation that is mutual; forgiveness is one-sided: I forgive you, though you may or may not accept my forgiveness. That’s really putting yourself out there. That’s taking a dive without knowing whether the relational swimming pool will be full of water or sharp, pointy rocks. Pretty scary stuff.

Yet we say the prayer blithely, little recognizing the import of each loaded word. So here’s a challenge: The next time you pray the Our Father, listen to yourself. Can you commit to forgiving your trespassers, or will you go after them, rifle in hand? Forgiveness, we assume, is easy for God. But asking for forgiveness requires that we be willing to take down our own fences, to do the difficult (for us) thing. And that’s just one of the challenges of the Our Father. No wonder, then, that it is the only prayer Jesus gave us. It is, on examination, more than enough.

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