Forgiveness Matt. 18:21–35
You have probably notice that I spend one week a year with the monks of a Benedictine Community, one of the things that you soon notices living in a Monastic Community is that everyone’s is humble, it is hard to stop even the Abbot from carrying your bags in for you. The atmosphere you find in a Monastic Community can be sum up in the first verse of Psalm 113;
“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”
When we start living in an atmosphere of humbleness and honesty, we must take some risks and expect some dangers, because unless humbleness and honesty result in forgiveness, relationships cannot be mended or strengthened.
Peter recognized the risks and asked Jesus how he should handle them, and Peter did make some serious mistakes like we all do, and at that point in time he lacked humbleness himself.
One of Peter’s mistakes was in asking Jesus for limits and measures of forgiveness, as Peter was quite sure his brother would sin against him so how many times should he forgive him, as he, would not, sin against his brother!
Paul writes in the letter to the Ephesians:
“Where there is love, there can be no limits or dimensions” (Eph. 3:17–19).
Peter thought he was showing great faith and love when he offered to forgive someone seven times, after all, the rabbis taught that it was only sufficient to forgive someone three times.
However Jesus’ reply to Peters question was; “Until seventy times seven” which must have startled him as who could keep count for that many offenses?
But that was exactly the point Jesus was making: Love “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:5, niv).
By the time we have forgiven someone that many times, we are in the habit of forgiving, but Jesus was not advising careless or shallow forgiveness. “Christian love is not blind” (Phil. 1:9–10).
The forgiveness Christ requires is on the basis of the instructions we find in the verses of St Mathews Gospel before to days reading.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.
If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.
But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (15-20)
If someone is guilty of a repeated sin, no doubt he or she would find strength and power to conquer that sin through the encouragement of his or her loving and forgiving brethren.
If we condemn someone, we bring out the worst in them, but if we create an atmosphere of love and forgiveness, we can help God bring out the best in them.
This parable illustrates the power of forgiveness and is not about salvation, for salvation is wholly of grace and is unconditionally given.
To make God’s forgiveness a temporary thing is to violate the very truth of Scripture (Rom. 5:8; Eph. 2:8–9; Titus 3:3–7) as this parable deals with forgiveness between people, not between lost sinners and God.
The emphasis in this part of Matthew Gospel is on forgiving each other (Matt. 18:15, 21) and the main character in this parable went through three stages in his experience of forgiveness.
First he was a debtor (vv. 23–27) and had been stealing funds from the king and, when the books were audited, his crime was discovered.
The total tax levy in Palestine at that time was about 800 talents a year, so we can see how dishonest this man was as in terms of today’s buying power, this would run in to millions.
This man actually thought he could get out of the debt and had told the king that, given enough time, he could pay it back.
It seams that the man was not ashamed that he stole the money; he was ashamed because he got caught and he actually thought he was big enough to earn the money to repay the king, the sin of pride and a lack of sincere repentance had got in the man’s way.
His case was hopeless, except for one thing, the king was a man of compassion and he knew that the man would have had to work twenty years to earn one talent.
So the King wrote off the loss and forgave the servant which meant that the man was now free, and that he and his family would not be thrown into a debtor’s prison.
The servant did not deserve this forgiveness; it was purely an act of love and mercy on the part of the King.
Secondly he was a creditor (vv. 28–30). The servant left the presence of the king and went and found a fellow servant who owed him 100 pence.
The average worker earned one penny a day, so this debt was insignificant compared to what the servant had owed the king.
Instead of sharing with his friend the joy of his own release, the servant mistreated his friend and demanded that he pay the debt.
The debtor used the same approach as the servant: “Have patience with me and I will pay you all of it!”
But the unjust servant was unwilling to grant to others what he wanted others to grant to him.
Perhaps he had the legal right to throw the man in prison, but he did not have the moral right to do so.
He had been forgiven himself—should he not forgive his fellow servant?
He and his family had been spared the shame and suffering of prison, should he not now spare his friend the same fate?
Thirdly he became a prisoner (vv. 31–34). The king originally delivered him from prison, but the servant through his actions put himself back in.
“So you want to live by justice?” asked the king. “Then you shall have justice! Throw the wicked servant in prison and torment him! I will do to him as he has done to others.”
There is no suggestion that the entire family was sentenced, after all, it was only the man who abused the other servant and ignored the king’s kindness.
The world’s worst prison is the prison of an unforgiving heart. If we refuse to forgive others, then we are only imprisoning ourselves and causing our own torment.
Some of the most miserable people are the ones who can not forgive others, they live only to imagine ways to punish these people who had wronged them, but they really are only punishing themselves.
What was wrong with this man is the same thing that is wrong with some Christians in the world today?
They have received forgiveness, but they have not really experienced forgiveness deep in their hearts, therefore, they are unable to share forgiveness with those who have wronged them.
If we live only according to justice, always seeking to get what is ours, we will put ourselves into prison, but if we live according to forgiveness, sharing with others what God has shared with us, and then we will enjoy freedom and joy.
Peter had asked for a just measuring rod but Jesus had told him to practice forgiveness and to forget the measuring rod.
Jesus warned us that God cannot forgive us if we do not have humble and repentant hearts, we reveal the true condition of our hearts by the way we treat others.
When our hearts are humble and repentant, we will gladly forgive each other but where there is pride and a desire for revenge, there can be no true repentance; and this means God cannot forgive.
In other words, it is not enough to receive God’s forgiveness, or even the forgiveness of others, we must experience that forgiveness in our hearts so that it humbles us and makes us gentle and forgiving toward others.
The servant in the parable did not have a deep experience of forgiveness and humbleness he was simply glad to be “off the hook.” He had never really repented.
I would like to leave you with a few words from one St Paul’s letters.
“And be you kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32).