If you attended worship on Ash Wednesday, you may have noticed that the Gospel reading has a big whole in the center. It skips from Matthew 6.6 to Matthew 6.16. Why? What is so scandalous in the missing verses? Are we really so hurried that 9 more verses would push the service too long?
Here are the scandalous contents of the missing verses:
7 ‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 ‘Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.'
Those last two verses are the scary ones, the ones that make us cringe so much that NO ONE bothered to add them to the Revised Common Lectionary. While I am normally the first to line up in support of the RCL, this omission is disgraceful.
We need these words from Jesus. We need to be told not to trust in our own piles of empty words. We need to be told that God knows what we need before we can ask or even realize ourselves our own needs.
And we need these condemning, impossible words about forgiveness - that our own forgiveness is bound together with our neighbor's forgiveness. That we cannot hope to receive forgiveness if we do not learn to forgive. And that God's forgiveness comes before and after our own.
These are hard words, but we need them.
With ashen crosses on our heads, we need them.