"'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?

' Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.'" (Matt 18:21-22) Introduction The subject of forgiveness is not a very complicated matter. It is something God asks us to grant to others as part of the normal course of our human relationships (whether we want to or not). This is not to suggest that forgiving someone is easy to do, especially if that person's offense was egregious or if we have had a longstanding grievance. In terms of the Matthew 18 Community, forgiveness forms one of that community's core values as well as the last topic in this series. Exactly what is the nature of forgiveness and why are we compelled to give it whenever someone requests it? Setting the Context In Matt 18:21-35, Peter begins the scintillating exchange on forgiveness by asking Jesus a seemingly simple question. (Don't you just get the feeling that every time Peter opens his mouth he's going to get rebuked or taught a lesson?) "How many times should I forgive my brother" he asks, "seven times?" Jesus' answer of "70 x 7 times" is hyperbole, meaning that is not to be taken literally. The point is that forgiveness should be generous, limitless and always dispensed when someone asks for it in sincerity. And, lest we blow off this request, Jesus relates a parable with frightening consequences.

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The Unmerciful Servant The parable is well known. Two servants both ask for forgiveness for debts they owe. One owes his master 10,000 talents, the other owes his fellow slave 100 denarii. The contrast in the debt is intentional. 1 talent would take about 16 years to pay off. The math is ridiculous. The first servant could live 1,000 lifetimes (not that he'd get a chance) and still not pay off more than 50% of his debt. The other servant owes about 3 months of wages, a very reasonable sum to make up. The first servant pleads for mercy and is forgiven, and using parallel terms and concepts, the second servant pleads for mercy from the first but is not forgiven. When the master discovers the treachery of the first servant, all hell breaks loose and the master throws the first servant into jail to start doing time. Only 160,000 years to go! The Kicker in the Parable But the most frightening part of this parable is what Jesus states afterward. "My heavenly father will do the same to you (as the first slave) if you don't forgive your brother from the heart." Come again? I thought God was obliged to forgive me no matter what I did. WOW! That is really scary. The Nature of Forgiveness What is the nature of forgiveness? 1) Forgiveness reflects God's divine mercy. This is why the contrast exists in the two debts. The incalculable debt of the first servant is meant to remind us of a similar debt we had with the Lord. But when we first came to God and asked for his forgiveness, he granted it, virtually no questions asked (well, I supposed the sinner's prayer counts as an extended question). Not only that, every time we sin, scripture tells us that we can come to the Father in repentance and he will grant us forgiveness. There's that 70 x 7 thing again. Go and Do Likewise So given this scenario of divine patience and the near perpetual mercy that God shows us on a daily basis how can we hold back forgiveness to others for the debt we are owed (in comparison). Hear me clearly, I am not minimizing all of the terrible things that may have happened to you to cause you to be bitter. I know these traumas are a big deal, because I've had to deal with a few in my life. But they do not rise to level of the debt we owed to God prior to his granting forgiveness to us.

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