Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35
Is there someone in your life who is difficult to forgive?
What do you do when someone continually hurts you? What do you do when someone has hurt you deeply? Through habit or mean intention, some people create an atmosphere of pain that makes living the Christian life almost impossible. As much as we try, forgiveness seems to slip away. Hatred and emotional distance take its place. At these times, we want to cry out, "Lord! I have really tried. And, I've had enough!"
Peter asked Jesus the same question. At what point is forgiveness absurd?
Remember the source of forgiveness. Jesus answered. Remember the source.
21 Peter approached Jesus with a question: "Lord, how many times should I forgive a believer if he keeps hurting me? Up to seven times?"
22 "Not up to seven times," Jesus answered "but always. 23 Because you never stop forgiving, the kingdom of heaven is like this story:
A king wanted to know how much his officials owed him. 24 When he began to gather his officials' bills together, the guards brought in one official who owed the king a huge fortune. 25 Since the official could not pay him back, the king ordered the official, his wife, children, and everything the official owned sold to pay back the debt.
26 The official threw himself on the ground before the king. "Be patient with me!" the official begged, "I will pay you back everything!" 27 The king felt so sorry for the official, he forgave the debt and let the official go free.
28 After the official left, he ran into another official who owed him pocket change. He grabbed and choked the other official. "Pay back what you owe me!" he screamed.
29 The other official threw himself on the ground and pleaded, "Be patient with me! I will pay you back everything!" 30 But the official refused. He had the man who owed him money thrown in jail until that man could repay the debt.
31 When the king's other officials saw what happened, they got really upset. They went to the king and told him everything. 32 The king called the official in. "You evil man!" the king said. "I forgave your debt because you begged me. 33 Shouldn't you be kind to that other official, like I was kind to you?" 34 In anger, the king ordered the official to be punished in jail until he repaid everything he owed.
35 Just like the king in this story, my heavenly Father will treat you the same way unless you forgive others from your heart."
Matthew continued with the theme of forgiveness. Last week's study focused upon church discipline and the reputation of the sinner. In today's lesson, Jesus urged Christians (especially community leaders) to forgive the unrepentant sinner, despite the cost.
21 Then, having approached, Peter said to HIM, "Lord, how often can my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times? 22 JESUS said to him, "I say to you, not up to seven times, but seven times seventy."
The scene opened when Peter asked Jesus how many times should the unrepentant or habitual sinner be forgiven. Up to seven times? In the Jewish mind at the time of Jesus, the number "seven" represented fullness and completion (weren't there seven days in creation?). Peter must have thought the number "seven" was a good number. It represented a reasonable number of times the victim could forgive the sinner. Beyond seven times, the situation was beyond hope. Shunning from the sinner seemed to be the best solution. [18:21]
Jesus responded with a word play on the number seven (translated as "always" in 18:22). The Greek term used in 18:22 could either mean "seventy seven" or "seven times seventy." In either case, the number represented an uncountable number of times to Jesus' audience. Jesus' point was clear. Forgiveness was not a matter of social grace or necessity. Forgiveness was integral to the Christian lifestyle. As God always forgave the sinner, the sinner should always forgive others. [18:22]
How do people measure forgiveness? How does God measure our forgiveness?
23 Because of this, the Kingdom of heaven is like (the parable of) the king who wanted to examine the accounts of his servants. 24 When he began to examine (the accounts), one debtor of ten thousand talents was presented (to the king). 25 Since he did not have (the money) to repay (the king), the master ordered him, (his) wife, and (his) children to be sold (into slavery) and everything, as much as he had, (as a means) to repay (the debt). 26 Having fallen down, the servant laid prostrate, saying, "Have patience with me, and I will give everything back to you!" 27 Having pity, the master of that servant released him (from the guard) and set aside (the repayment of) the loan for him. 28 Having departed, that servant found one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundred denarii, and having caught hold of him, choked (his fellow servant), saying, "Repay what you owe (me)!" 29 Having fallen, his fellow servant urged him, saying, "Have patience with me, and I will give (the money) back to you!" 30 He did not want (to forgive the debt), so, having left, he threw him into jail until he might repay his debt. 31 Then, having seen the (events) that happened, the fellow servants (of the two) were greatly distressed and, leaving, reported (in detail) to the master everything that happened. 32 Having summoned (the abusive servant), his master said to him, "Evil servant, I set aside all that debt for you, because you begged me. 33 Was it not necessary for you to have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I also had mercy on you? 34 Having become angry, his master turned him over to the torturers, until he could repay everything owed. 35 So as well, MY heavenly Father will do to (all of) you, unless you forgive each of your brothers from your hearts."
18:24, 27 "ten thousand talents...one hundred denarii" Ten thousand talents represented an immeasurable amount of money (the gross national product of a nation), while one hundred denarii represented one hundred days wages. The comparison was intentionally absurd.
18:25 Since, under Jewish Law, a man and his wife could not be sold into slavery because of debt, Jesus used the example of customs in a Gentile court. (Notice the irony of a parable about God's mercy where God is represented by a pagan!) Selling the man, his family, and his possessions could never begin to recover the enormity of the debt.
18:34 "his master turned him over to the torturers, until he could repay everything owed" Since the debt was immeasurable, the torture was unending.
To place forgiveness in context, Jesus told a parable about a king who settled accounts with his officials (the Greek term "doulos" or "slave/servant" did not refer to owned as mere property, but to the relationship between the master of the kingdom and those who served in his court). One official owed an unheard amount of money (10,000 "talents") and begged for mercy when he could not repay the debt. Forgiven by the gracious king, the official left the court only to throttle a co-worker over an amount of one hundred days wages (100 "denarii"). When the king heard of the official's lack of mercy, he condemned the official to torture in jail. [18:23-34]
Any Christian can understand the symbolism in the parable. The king was God the Father. The ungrateful official was a petty Christian living in community. Such a believer demanded his "fair share" and easily forgot the gift God gave him. Without a sense of mercy, such a Christian disgraced the community and was no better than the unreformed sinner.
However, details in the parable paints the comparison in a starker contrast than a surface reading reveals. On the one hand, the co-worker owed the official wages for a third of a year . But the official owed the king an equivalent of the kingdom's gross national product. By one scholar's calculation, it would take 164,000 years to repay the debt!
To Jesus' contemporaries, the amount of the debt of the official represented more than money. The debt reflected the great trust the king placed in the official. A high royal official acted as a go-between who connected the royal family with the other aristocratic families in the kingdom. He acted with political and financial clout, speaking and spending in the king's name. Such a high official had power second only to the king. And his power was based upon the king's trust.
So, the official sinned when he squandering the money. But he committed a greater sin when he abused the trust the king placed in him. The king showed his great mercy by restoring trust in the official. The king wiped the slate clean. And the official could again be trusted with the wealth and the power of the king.
What wealth has the Lord bestowed on us? He gave us the Good News that Christ died for our sins. But, he gave us an even greater gift when he share his divine life with us. His Spirit lives in the very root of our being. This gift is worth far more than all the gold in the world could buy. How great is his trust in us!
Yet, we squander this gift so easily when our selfish hearts shut him out. And, when we realize our fault and return to him, how easily does he forgive us and renew his live in us! Like the official before the king, God renews his trust in us with the greatest gift of all.
But does our pettiness stop us from forgiving our neighbor, like the official in the story? If we refuse to forgive others, even their smallest transgressions, will we be any better than the unrepentant? On the last day, would we be surprised if the Lord treated us, like we treated others? The moral of the story is clear. As the Lord always forgives us from the inner depths of his heart, we, too, must forgive others. [18:35]
What does the parable of the servant say to you? Have you ever been the servant? His co-worker who owed him money? What happened?
Catechism Theme: The Conversion of the Baptized (CCC 1425-1429)
Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian message. As God forgives us, we, sinners, are to forgive others. To realize God in our lives requires us to become aware of our own shortcomings and to forgive others' shortcomings. As the Our Father states: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."
Since God always forgives us, we should always turn toward him. Our conversion, then, should be an ongoing and life long process. While God forgave our sins in Baptism, "the frailty and weakness of human nature" remain. (CCC 1426) God forgave us in water, yet he continually calls us closer. While we may stumble and fall, we always hear his call. He always holds out his hand to raise us up so we can continue on the journey.
Our conversion at Baptism marked the first time we declared our conversion to Christ. Yet, there is a second conversion God calls us to. A continuing conversion both of the individual and the community of believers. We all are to turn to him and turn to each other in love.
How is conversion a live-long journey for you? How has God helped you to realize that his forgiveness is on-going and never ending? How has that fact affected your relations with others, especially those who habitually hurt you?
When have we forgiven enough times? Imagine God asking us that question from his perspective! No, we cannot conceive of such a question on his part, lest our faith die. But, God is God. He is ever faithful, ever forgiving. He showed us so when his Son died on the cross.
When God calls us to himself, he calls us to continual conversion. As we forever receive pardon for our shortcomings, we should always forgive others for theirs.
The next time someone hurts us and challenges our patience, let us remember the source of forgiveness. Let us remember the source.
Make a short list of the people you find difficult to forgive. Pray for the realization God has forgiven you. Then (and only then) pray for the power to forgive them.