Thought for the Day - Rev Dr Michael Banner

Good morning.

Having grown up in the sixties, I belong to a generation which learnt the Lord’s prayer in one version, but was made thereafter to learn alternative, supposedly easier versions. I started with ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us’, as it is in the Book of Common Prayer – and was always somewhat alarmed by large notices announcing that ‘trespassers will be prosecuted’. Next came ‘Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors’ - though I am not sure that that assisted my comprehension, since I was unaware of having either debts or debtors. Version 3 was ‘forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us’ – which has the disadvantage that ‘sins’ suggest to a child something rather momentous and weighty, whereas I wasn’t sufficiently adventurous to have done anything grand enough to seem likely to count. I don’t know which word is best – but since the prayer is meant for everyday and everyone, its point is that, whether we refer to trespasses, debts or sins, we all stand in need of forgiveness.

Debtors were in the news yesterday in a survey which shows that people are increasingly turning to so-called pay day loans to tide them over at the end of the month. Such borrowers regularly face interest rates of several hundred per cent – or in some cases a staggering 4000 per cent. Of course, it is the poor who make most use of these loans – and on the same day, the latest National Centre for Social Research’s report on British Social Attitudes found that more of us are blaming poverty on ‘laziness’. The BBC’s Home Editor commented that Britons were becoming ‘increasingly judgmental’. Supposing this is true, we might wonder why it is so – and we may speculate that in a harsh economic climate we all become somewhat harsher.

In such a climate, it might be a good idea to make use of the version of the Lord’s prayer which has the words, ‘forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors’. Christians have, traditionally, had a rather distinctive attitude to the poor – irreproachable evidence on this point comes not from a Christian, but from the last pagan emperor Julian. Writing a letter in 362, he complained to a Roman high priest that it was a disgrace that whilst the Jews cared for their needy, and whilst the ‘impious Galileans’ (as he termed Christians), ‘support not only their own poor but ours as well’, we Romans do nothing. The Romans gave us many things, but a sense of solidarity that reached to the margins of society was not one of them. Reminding ourselves, day by day, that we are ourselves debtors may do something to temper the harshness which threatens concern and care for the poor.

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