Cancelling Debts

“In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says, literally, ‘remit us our debts as we ourselves have remitted them to our debtors.’ Numerous translations ‘correct’ Jesus’ words by substituting ‘forgive’ and ‘offences’.

This is misleading. The Greek word, opheilema means precisely a monetary debt. So, in the Lord’s Prayer Jesus is not just vaguely telling us to pardon those who have bothered us. No – he is telling us purely and simply to erase the debts of those who owe us money – in other words, to practice the jubilee.’

In Matthew, Jesus adds an extra clause at the end of the Lord’s Prayer to make sure people understand that the principle about erasing debts apply to wrongs as well. [Mt 6:14-15]

The Lord’s Prayer is a jubilee prayer. It means ‘The time has come for the faithful people to abolish all the debts which bind the poor ones of Israel, for your debts toward God are also wiped away (for that is the gospel, the good news).’


‘The unmerciful servant’ of the parable in Mt 18:23-25 is in this situation. He is in increasing debt, loses property and then loses his liberty. But then the jubilee year is proclaimed and the king forgives the servant his debt.

So far so good. But the story has a bitter end – one that reflects Jesus’ disappointment that most of the Israelites, even the humble had refused him
the jubilee. The freed servant meets one of his fellow peasants who owes him money and he demands for him to pay up. He doesn’t extend the jubilee grace he was given to others. The servant is put before the king. The king orders that he be sold into slavery for there is no divine jubilee for those who refuse to apply it on Earth.”

Source: Nathan Hobby & James Patton, The Politics of Jesus (simplified version of John H. Yoder’s classic book), Chapter 3: The Implications of The Jubilee, Cancelling Debt and Freeing Slaves, p 13-14.


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