Forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35)

Submitted by admin on Tue, 2008-04-29 10:48.

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Probably Jesus’ words about gaining an erring brother prompted Peter to wonder concerning how often forgiveness should be extended. He asked whether up to seven times might be the limit. Jesus answered, “Not up to seven times, I say to you, but up to seventy times seven [or, seventy-seven] times.” (Matthew 18:21, 22) This reply indicated that harboring grudges or resorting to any kind of reckoning in relation to forgiveness would be wrong.

To stress the importance of maintaining a forgiving spirit, Jesus related a parable. He likened a feature of the “kingdom of the heavens” to a “man,” a “king,” who determined to settle accounts with his slaves. (Matthew 18:23)

One slave owed him the astronomical sum of 10,000 talents. With a Tyrian talent being 6,000 denarii (the wages a laborer would earn in 6,000 days), this huge sum could not be earned in the course of many lifetimes. To pay off what would have been only a small portion of the debt, the king decreed that the slave, his wife and children, and everything he possessed be sold. At that, the slave prostrated himself before his master, pleading to be shown patience in order to have time to repay his debt. Compassionately, the king canceled the entire debt, one that would have been impossible for the slave to repay. (Matthew 18:24-27)

After having been the recipient of extraordinary mercy, this slave found a fellow slave who owed him 100 denarii (a minuscule fraction of the debt the king had canceled), grabbed him, and started to choke him, demanding that he pay back all that he owed. This slave then prostrated himself, pleading to be shown patience until such time as he could pay off the debt. The creditor slave, however, refused to respond compassionately to his fellow slave but had him imprisoned until such time as the debt would be paid off. (Matthew 18:28-30) As a prisoner, the slave would have been unable to earn any money. Only relatives or friends could have freed him from prison by paying off the debt.

Having observed this merciless treatment, other fellow slaves were greatly distressed. This prompted them to report to the king what had happened. (Matthew 18:31)

He called for the harsh slave to appear before him, condemned him as wicked, and asked whether he should not have had compassion for a fellow slave in view of the compassion that had been shown him. Greatly angered, the master handed him over to the “tormentors” (the jailers who often inflicted torment on prisoners), until such time as he would pay back his debt. (Matthew 18:32-34) Repayment would, of course, have been an impossibility, as no friends or relatives would have had such great wealth at their disposal.

Revealing the serious consequences for being unforgiving, Jesus said that his heavenly Father would deal like the king of the parable with his disciples if they did not forgive a brother’s transgressions from their hearts or in all sincerity from their deep inner selves. (Matthew 18:35) The tremendous debt of sin that God is willing to forgive everyone who repents and asks for mercy makes any sin a brother or fellow believer might commit against one appear minuscule (a debt of just 100 denarii alongside a forgiven debt of 60,000,000 denarii). Accordingly, all who would have a share in the “kingdom of the heavens” or in the realm where the heavenly Father rules by means of his Son must be forgiving as he is.