Debita nostra

I’ve been taught three forms of the translation for et dimitte nobis debita nostra in the Lord’s Prayer:

  • Forgive us our sins
  • Forgive us our debts
  • Forgive us our trespasses

It’s struck me that these seem to be three distinctly different concepts, perhaps not even related to each other. But hang on a second!

When I sin, what is the debt that needs to be forgiven? Most often it’s not a debt of owing money. But it’s something that I need to put back in balance: my relationship with God.

I owe God the repairing of that relationship. And by asking God to forgive the injury I’ve committed, I’m asking that this debt be corrected – to be “wiped off the books.”

But what about translating it as trespasses?

We usually think about trespassing as going onto someone’s property without permission. But in a larger sense, a sin is when I violate someone’s honor and dignity through my actions.

When I speak badly of someone, I’ve taken away their reputation.

When I am less than honest in my dealings, I’ve taken away what I owe someone.

When I disrespect God’s role in the world, I’ve taken away the respect I owe Him.

Any sin has an element of disrespectfully intruding into someone else’s life. That’s the form of trespassing which I need to correct.

And I need God’s help to repair what I’ve done.

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