It also clearly contradicts the teachings of ecclesiastical Christian institutions who proclaim that the only way our sins can be cleansed - forgiven - is by the crucifixion of Jesus' physical body.
This verse lies within Jesus' recommended prayer to the Supreme Being, wherein Jesus is requesting his students directly ask the Supreme Being to forgive their sins. The word "debts" here comes from the Greek word ὀφείλημα (opheilēma), which means "that which is owed" when referred to literally, but also means "offense, sin" when referred to metaphorically.
Certainly Jesus is using the latter meaning, because the word "forgive" - translated from the Greek word ἀφίημι (aphiēmi) - means "to let go" - refers to forgiving something. While a debt may be forgiven, otherwise only an offense can be forgiven.
But could Jesus be referring to money here? As though his students owe God some money and want Him to relieve us of those financial debts? Don't be ridiculous.
Jesus is speaking of offenses, which is also what sins are: Offenses against the Supreme Being. How so?
Because the Supreme Being is a Person. He is not a vague force or shining light or burning bush. He is a Person who can love and forgive. Only a person can love and forgive.
And the Supreme Being loves each of us unconditionally. He cares for us and wants us to be happy. But we have all but forgotten Him. We have been living our lives while ignoring Him. We've been chasing our self-centered dreams around while we have been forgetting Him and His love for us.
This forgetfulness - this ignoring of the Supreme Being - is offensive.
Let's use an example. Let's say that we have a teenage son whom we care for and have raised and bought all his clothes, and we have fed him and made sure he got to school everyday and put a roof over his head and everything else. Suddenly he starts ignoring us. He doesn't even say 'good morning' or 'good night' to us. He acts as though we don't even exist. Then on top of that, he begins doing all the things we have asked him not to do. How would we feel? We would feel insulted, right?
This is almost exactly what we have been doing, and this is how the Supreme Being feels. Yet He still loves us unconditionally and He is always ready to forgive us.
As to the example above with the teenager, what would remedy the situation? If the teenager acknowledged our existence and came to us and asked us to forgive him for ignoring us.
This is what Jesus is recommending to his students: That they - and we - ask the Supreme Being for forgiveness.
But notice that Jesus adds a requisite to this request for forgiveness: That we also forgive others for their offenses against us: "as we also have forgiven our debtors."
Many of us like to think of the Supreme Being as some sort of magic wand or genie. As if He will deliver whatever we request. That all we have to do is ask and He will deliver without condition. This is absolutely not true.
Rather, the Supreme Being is the Original Person, and He is our Master and Creator. We are thus subservient to Him. He is not our servant. We are His servants.
But the Supreme Being also wants to exchange love. He enjoys loving relationships. And He enjoys being part of others' loving relationships.
For this reason He is pleased when we acknowledge Him and reach out to Him because He wants to exchange a loving relationship with us. But He is also pleased when we are kind to each other. He is pleased when we care for each other. He is especially pleased when we care for each other because it pleases Him.
These elements - the elements of God's personal side - are typically missed by ecclesiastical institutions that teach of religious activity as something done to achieve a self-centered purpose.
This is because the sermons and teachings of their teachers focus upon what our religious activity will do for us - in order to increase their followers. They promise that worshiping God can make us rich. They promise that worshiping God will heal our sicknesses. They promise that worshiping God will bring us salvation - and escape from hell.
But the real purpose of worshiping the Supreme Being is to re-establish our innate loving relationship with Him. It is to resume our natural position as one of His loving servants and rejoin our spiritual family in the spiritual realm.
But this spiritual family is not the type of family where everyone is out for themselves. Where everyone is trying to take advantage of each other. Where the ultimate purpose is to achieve what I want to achieve - self-centeredness.
No. The spiritual family Jesus wants us to rejoin is the family where everyone is looking to please the Supreme Being. This is a different sort of family. It is family where the foundation is love.
Just imagine two dinner tables. At one, everyone wants to make sure they get enough to eat. People are grabbing at the food being brought in. As a result, the stronger people get more to eat than the weaker members. And some don't get anything to eat.
At the other dinner table, everyone is wanting to make sure that everyone else has enough to eat. At this table, no one goes hungry. Everyone gets enough to eat.
The first table is like the physical world, where there is scarcity. The second table is like the spiritual realm - where everyone is thinking about each other in relation to the Supreme Being.
It is this environment - the second table - that Jesus is inviting his students to join. In such an environment no one would even think of asking forgiveness from the Supreme Being unless they had forgiven others.
This expectation is not a requirement for forgiveness. Certainly the Supreme Being, who loves us unconditionally, will forgive us of our offenses against Him. But He wants us to also partake in a relationship with the rest of His spiritual family - our spiritual family.
This means immediately forgiving others for their offenses against us - regardless of whether they ask for our forgiveness or not.
By doing that we rejoin our spiritual family, and begin to taste the loving relationships the spiritual realm is made of.
The situation we are in today and the things we are doing are certainly because of the desires and decisions we made in the past. But these situations were surely put in front of us by God, in order to teach us that we will not be happy without Him.
This is because God wants us back. He wants us to resume the relationship we once had with Him. That relationship where we loved Him with all our hearts. That relationship where our desires and decisions are centered around Him. That relationship of loving service.
It is not as if by simply caring for others we will be accomplishing our revived relationship with God. That relationship requires rebuilding. That relationship requires that we begin the process of exchange.
Every relationship is built upon exchange. Exchange is what a boy does when he shows up at the girl’s door with a corset before the dance. Exchange is what a husband does when he purchases a house that his wife likes, or takes out the trash. Exchange is the process of giving and receiving that builds a relationship.
It is this process of exchange that is required for us to rebuild our lost relationship with God. When we rejected God and took on these physical bodies, we lost this exchange. We began to look out for our own interests.
As we rebuild our relationship with God, we have to begin to look out for His interests again. This means we find out what He wants from us and we begin to do those things.
Jesus is clarifying here that the key to rebuilding our relationship is by communicating with God. This means praying to Him, praising and repeating His Holy Names, making offerings to Him, and thinking about Him. These outreach activities focus our attention upon the Supreme Being and our spiritual family.
These activities also make us happy, and make Him happy. Why? Because God enjoys the exchange of a loving relationship too.
(For a translation of Jesus' statements from the Gospel of Matthew without institutional sectarian influence, see the Gospels of Jesus - translated from the original Greek texts.)