21 Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus *said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26 So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ 27 And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and beganto choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’29 So his fellow slave fell to the ground andbegan to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ 30 But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed.31 So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32 Then summoning him, his lord *said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.33 Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ 34 And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” Matt 18: 21-35
The story of the servant that was forgiven, yet refused to forgive, is a sobering one. At first, it seems a bit ridiculous. The man owed an unimaginably large sum of money–probably several million dollars if it were converted to the modern equivalent. There was, quite simply, no earthly way that the servant could ever earn enough to pay it off. (One can’t help wondering why the king would have loaned him so much and what in the world he had spent it on, but I digress…) The only possible way for that man to be free of the debt was by the gracious forgiveness of his master.
Yet for some reason, he found himself unable to enjoy that free gift, and began a campaign to raise money himself. Rather than passing along the grace he was given, he redoubled his efforts to hold other debtors responsible. We tend to look down on this man: How could he be so mean when he had been given so much? But his response was actually logical by human standards. He probably still felt indebted and wished to do his very best to repay his master. Even though paying the entire debt was impossible, he could at least give his master a small part of what he owed.
If you are a child of God, you have been forgiven. He has forgiven us an impossibly huge debt, one that we could never repay, no matter how hard we try. But how many times do people do the same thing as the man in this story? After receiving this amazing gift from God, they then become inflexible, expecting perfection and unwilling to overlook even the smallest fault. Do we forget that we were once completely helpless, wallowing in our sins? And can’t we see that, by trying to exact perfection in our lives and those around us, we are making a mockery of the incredible gift of forgiveness we were given? The ways that we attempt to “pay back” our God are even more ludicrous and ineffective than the day’s wages the man in the story tried to collect. No wonder Isaiah says that our own righteousnesses are as filthy rags! We simply cannot come up with any repayment that begins to measure up.
It is not our job to purify the body of Christ–to keep it flawless and purge the imposters. God will take care of that. The task we are given is to worship and trust God and to forgive others and ourselves as we have been forgiven. Matt 6:9-15
The Lord Jesus told this story as a response to Peter’s question about forgiveness. How many times have you heard and quoted the line about “seventy times seven?” But how many times have you truly forgiven someone even seven times, let alone 490 times? It is easy to prate the platitudes about forgiveness, but much more difficult to put into practice. Each time you are wronged, it becomes a bit harder to forgive.
Yet our almighty God, our perfect and sinless Father, forgives us countless times, promising to do so each time we confess. In light of that, how can we ever withhold forgiveness from those around us? Refusal to forgive is refusal to accept forgiveness.
If we cannot forgive…then we are not forgiven.
And what, then, was Christ’s life given for?
Do we even begin to comprehend the depth of the Father’s love for us?