“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”
Of bitterness and ketchup bottles
When I was an intern, working in a parish full time for a year between my second and third years of academic work at seminary, an elderly woman from a nearby senior residence center called the church asking for a pastor to visit. It fell to me. She turned out to be a woman so filled with bitterness that no one would have anything to do with her. She had burned every bridge. But none of it was her fault, she insisted. I have known very few people so unlikeable.
Bitterness had so filled her soul that she was incapable of taking in any idea of the love or grace or mercy of God – let alone receiving the kindness of another person or giving it. When Jesus tells us to forgive so that we may be forgiven, he is not making God’s forgiveness conditional upon ours. He is recognizing that you can’t fill a jar that is already full. Our lives cannot be filled with God’s mercy if they are full of grievance.
But you don’t have to empty the jar to begin to taste heaven’s mercy. It’s more like getting the ketchup jar going (before they were squeeze bottles): you have to get some out so the air can begin to get in. And once the ketchup begins to flow, the more you pour out, the more room there is for the breath of God.