Commentary on the Gospel of

David Crawford - Creighton University's Former Archivist

Today’s readings highlight two wonderful, powerful tools – forgiveness and prayer – that bless and enrich our lives.  These are also tools that often are underutilized and perhaps even neglected.  The psalmist tells us that our God mercifully and graciously forgives, and Jesus teaches us to ask for that forgiveness.  He then reminds us that we are not just to receive forgiveness, but to extend it as well.

As a child in Sunday School, the Jonah story was always exciting but usually focused on the first three chapters.  Jonah eventually obeys, Nineveh was saved, story ends happily, right?  Not for Jonah.  We read that he was “greatly displeased” because God had not followed through with the threatened punishment.  In fairness, Jonah has really been put through the ringer.  The punishment he had endured was spectacular.  I imagine that he may have been a bit frightened as he walked through the streets of this large city announcing very bad news.  Then, after all the trouble he had gone through, God had not done what Jonah wanted.  Jonah’s anger made him miserable, so much so that he announced he wanted to die.  Jonah’s bitterness and frustration bring to mind a saying of Nelson Mandela’s that being resentful instead of forgiving is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

The Gospel reading today is quite familiar, with Luke’s take on the prayer Jesus taught.  As simple as this wonderful prayer is, it has a rich wisdom to it, especially with regards to forgiveness.  Forgiveness is good for us, both in the giving and the receiving.  Different translations of this beautiful prayer use different words for what needs forgiving.  I have heard debts, trespasses and sins used (Luke mixes sins and debts), and each can be useful as I contemplate what, who and how to forgive.  I can find it hard to forgive someone who I feel owes me something – including gratitude or support.  Likewise, forgiveness comes slowly if I think someone crossed a line or stuck their nose where (I think) it didn’t belong; if they did something, intentionally or unintentionally, that causes harm or trouble for me or those close to me.  Jonah’s situation reminds me that I can be angry at people I have never met for evil actions that may not have impacted me directly.  Part of the wisdom of the Lord’s Prayer is that it reminds us, repeatedly, to forgive so that we can benefit from the act of forgiving.  (In the Gospel of Matthew, the verses immediately following elaborate on the forgiveness message: forgive and your Heavenly Father will forgive you; don’t forgive, and you won’t be forgiven (Matthew 6:14-15).) 

To state the obvious: Prayer is important.  The disciples recognized this, which is why they asked for the tutorial.  The act of praying is more than just saying words, though.  While I was at Creighton, I had several opportunities to share a Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible with visitors to the Rare Books Room.  On one such occasion, a woman from the Netherlands engaged with the beautiful artwork for a couple hours.  She was especially taken with Donald Jackson’s “Lord’s Prayer” (reproduced here, with permission).  I was privileged and blessed to be present as she prayed the words passionately and reverently.  She spoke softly, but powerfully, completely at peace as she recited each line in English and then repeated it in Dutch.  It was not the bilingual delivery, though, that made this special.  It was that she lifted up her soul (to use the words of the psalmist) and gave herself entirely to the prayer.  I can’t recall another time when listening to someone pray has caused me to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit so vividly. 

Lord’s Prayer, Donald Jackson, Copyright 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA.


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