“Deaconess, I want you to talk to her. I tried to get her to move along, but all she wanted to do is primp in front of the mirror. Then she fussed with her clothes. Now she’s made her sister late for school and me late for work. She left her homework at home, but I refused to go back and get it.” Mom turned on her heel without as much as her usual hug and left.
The Second Grader in front of me tried to smile. I looked at her for a moment, and then asked, “Well, what have you to say for yourself?”
“Nothing,” she replied, relying on her default mode.
“Nothing, baloney,” I responded. “Let’s get to the real issue. You’re quite a little thief, aren’t you?” Any further attempts at smiling from the little culprit faded.
“I stole time, didn’t I?”
We weren’t working from scratch. We were well into the school year, and this student had been with us since she was four years old. She knew how to put her errors in the context of the Ten Commandments, and could do it well.
“From whom did you steal time?” I asked.
She took time to think hard. “Well, from my mom because she’s late for work. And from my sister, because she’s late for school. And from you because now you should be teaching but you have to mess with me. And from the class.”
“You missed one.”
“Oh, from me, because I’m late for school and missed something I needed.”
"Like I said, you are quite a little thief,” I repeated.
Now the tears wanted to come. Just as they started to fall she glanced up to the crucifix on the wall and then looked at me. “He had a thief next to Him.”
“Yes, He did,” I replied. “And what happened with that thief?”
“Jesus forgave his sins. I’m sorry I’m a thief.”
“Do you think it is any different for you? Jesus forgives you, and so do I. Would you like to call your mom and say the same thing? I reckon she’s just waiting to say ‘I forgive you to you.’”
Jesus didn’t leave the thief’s confession unanswered. From the cross He spoke to him blessed words of comfort. To those who placed Him on that cross He shouted no ringing epithets, rather the absolution of the ages, “Father forgive them… It is finished.”
From the first day students enter our school they learn an important ritual. An apology does not go unanswered; it is always followed up by the response, “I forgive you.” Even the youngest students are taught to look at those whom they have offended in the face, for the work of confessing sins and forgiveness is personal, not offered up to the sound waves of the spheres to be answered only by the sound of one’s own heartbeat.
Jesus did not leave us without words of forgiveness in our mouths. He gives us pastors to speak Holy Absolution to us. He also put the Fifth Petition into the mouth of the whole church.
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
What does this mean?
We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.
Shall we only sincerely forgive silently when a brother confesses that he has sinned against us? Shall we turn that one away without the comfort of the Gospel in which we live, too? No. Better yet to live according to this petition, and open the mouth and speak: “I forgive you.” Such words cannot be given freely save among those in whom the forgiveness of Christ first has been received.
The Little Thief knew this. Certainly she could not articulate any of it. She had learned this through the school's practice. Most assuredly, like the thief who still endured his own crime’s penalties, she was not appreciative of the fact that she was still the recipient of the consequences of what her tardiness wrought: an angry mother and disciplinary sentences because she didn’t turn in her homework. However, she also knew what these things couldn’t take away.
“You know you’ll have to write sentences, don’t you,” I reminder her.
“I know,” she said. “But the thief won’t stay dead. Jesus forgives me, too.”