“I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” Matthew 18:22
Peter comes to Jesus with a question about how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him. Peter thought he was being all good and holy suggesting as many as seven times. Seven after all was the perfect number, and he thought it was quite generous of him to suggest he would forgive so many times. But Jesus’ reply reveals what forgiveness looks like in the Kingdom and it completely blows away Peter’s suggestion of seven strikes and you are out.
Jesus replies to say we should forgive seventy-seven times, or seventy times seven in the view of some scholars. Either way, the point Jesus is making is we must forgive much, much more than we want to. It is ludicrous to think of someone counting up to seventy-seven sins, and even more crazy to think anyone could keep a tally up to 490 sins. The point Jesus is making is we should not put a limit on the number of times we forgive. In the Kingdom we are called to a radical kind of forgiveness the like of which is not found anywhere else, a forgiveness that does not run out, a forgiveness that doesn’t keep count or reach a limit.
Jesus then illustrates the point by telling the people a parable about two servants. One owed his master the king ten thousand talents – a sum equivalent to about two hundred thousand years work for a servant. He had no way of ever hoping to pay it back. And fortunately the king has pity on him and forgives the debt. He lets the servant go free. There are no repayments to be made. There are no conditions. There are no bailout terms. The debt is simply forgiven.
But this servant has his own servant. And that servant owes the first servant a hundred denarii – a sum equivalent to one hundred days’ wages – three month’s work. The first servant gets angry, attacking his servant, threatening him and putting him in prison until he is able to pay back the debt – a strange strategy given that in prison he would not be able to get to work in order to earn money to pay back the debt…
The servant who had an unimaginably huge debt cancelled refused to show mercy to the servant who owed him mere pennies in comparison. And when the king hears this he is furious – he summons the first servant back, and places him in jail until his original debt is paid. Jesus ends the parable by saying “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” Matthew 18:35.
God is the king in this parable, and we are the first servant. We have an immeasurably large debt that we owe due to the consequences of our sin and rebellion. Yet in His grace and mercy, through the blood of Jesus on the cross, the forgiveness of the Kingdom is lavished upon us. His loves washes away all our debts. We are forgiven without limit, unconditionally loved by the Father. Those who sin against us are like the second servant. No matter what they do to us (and in some cases people will have committed truly horrendous sins against you) we have to remember that they do not compare to our rebellion against holy God. Compared to what he has forgiven us for He does not ask us to forgive very much. But He does demand that as Kingdom citizens we forgive as we have been forgiven – compassionately, mercifully, lavishly and without limit. When we do this then lives get transformed!
“As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” Psalm 103:12
- What have you been forgiven for by God?
- Who do you need to forgive?
- What makes it hard for you to forgive compassionately, mercifully, lavishly and without limit? How can we forgive as we have been forgiven?