The prayer also teaches us that if we’re to be forgiven, then we can be forgivers. The one who has experienced forgiveness is the one best able to forgive. Our forgiveness begins as a response to our being forgiven. It’s not so much an act of generosity towards whoever has hurt us, as an act of gratitude toward our forgiving God, and that makes forgiveness neither easy nor cheap.
In forgiving us, God is refusing to let our sin have the last word; in challenging us to forgive others, Jesus is not saying that the injustice we have suffered is inconsequential, but refuses to let sin have the last word. Jesus is not trying to produce a set of victims who may be victimised over and over again. Rather, in challenging us to forgive, Jesus is inviting us to turn the world around, to throw a spanner in the eternal wheel of retribution and vengeance: not to suffer the hurt, lick our wounds, and lie in wait for the day when we shall at last be able to return the blow. Instead it’s a challenge to turn things around.
The courage to forgive one another begins in the humility engendered by the realisation that we have been forgiven. Forgiveness is a gift first offered to us, before we can offer it to others. When Jesus told Peter to forgive seventy-times-seven times, Jesus had already forgiven him seventy-times-seven trillion times.
In our forgiving and being forgiven we’re a part of God’s defeat of the powers that would otherwise dominate our lives. If you’ve ever been forgiven by someone, you know the way in which that forgiveness frees you, in a way that is close to divine. If you have ever forgiven someone who wronged you, you know how such forgiveness is not cheap, and how forgiving someone who has wronged you is a way of breaking the hold of that wrong upon your life.