“Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?”
(Peter asking Jesus in Matthew 18:21)
To make this question a bit more personal, substitute whomever you have a hard time forgiving in for “brother”. Perhaps someone from your past, perhaps someone at work, perhaps your spouse or a difficult child. “Lord, how many times should I forgive this person who continually sins against me?”
Peter’s follow up question was, “Up to seven times?” Peter, thinking that this was a very generous rule, and probably looking for affirmation from Jesus, was probably shocked by Jesus’ answer, “I tell you not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Now some readers may be running to check their journals to count where their offender is on the seventy-seven scale. Or, even if you don’t maintain a written record, you may have a pretty good count in your head. I don’t believe Jesus meant to actually keep a log of sins against you and to cut someone off after 77 sins. In the great “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13, we are told that love “keeps no record of wrongs”.
Jesus continues by telling the Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor. In this parable, a king was settling accounts with people who owed him money. One man owed the king “10,000 talents” which scholars translate to hundreds of thousands of years’ worth of wages. This was a debt that could never be paid. The debtor begged the king’s forgiveness and in his great mercy the king forgave his debt and set him free.
Being set free, this forgiven man goes out and sees another man who owes him some money. The debt is incomparably small to what he had just been forgiven. But what does the man do? He has no mercy on his fellow debtor and orders him to be put in prison.
The king hears of this and is filled with righteous anger, “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” (Matthew 18:33) And he orders the man to be thrown in jail and tortured until he can pay back all that he owed.
Jesus’ closing statement in this parable is profound, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother in your heart.” (Matthew 18:34)
If you are a child of God, you have been forgiven a debt greater than you could ever pay and greater than you could even understand. Let the reality of this sink in and remind yourself of it regularly. And let it be a constant motivation to forgive others.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)