Forgiveness from the Heart

Matthew 18:21-19:1
Jos 3: 7-10a,11, 13-17 / Ps 114

‘I canceled your debts because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’
(Matthew 18: 32-33)

We forget what forgiveness means
When we’re offended or betrayed;
Lord, remind us of our own sins,
And Your mercy in times we strayed.

When Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive a brother who offends him (Up to seven times?”) Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Thereupon, Jesus gave a parable about an unforgiving servant who owed his king ten thousand talents. Unable to pay, the king ordered that he and his whole family be sold as slaves to repay the debt. Falling on his knees, the servant begged for more time to pay. Instead, the servant’s master took pity on him and canceled his debt. But when that servant went out and found another servant who owed him a much smaller amount, he seized him, started to choke him, and demanded payment. His fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused, and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they reported the matter to their master. The master called the servant. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled your debts because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

Reflection

The hyperbolic amount that Jesus used to describe the debt of the first servant was meant to emphasize two points in this parable: 1) the “seventy-seven times” does not only refer to the indefinite number of times we must forgive, but to the amount of the debt or the severity of the sin committed against us; and 2) the enormous amount owed by the servant is like the debt from Christ’s own passion and death for our salvation, which we can never repay. Which points to the absurdity of those who have received the full gift of forgiveness from God, and yet still cannot find it in their hearts to forgive the smaller debt owed them by their neighbors. Jesus said in an earlier chapter: ‘If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions’ (Mt.6:14-15).

Like many of the parables of Jesus, the character of the unforgiving servant is typical of our human nature. We easily take God’s forgiveness for granted once we are the ones offended and we demand recompense or apologies. It only shows our lack of appreciation for God’s mercies and compassion. Our readiness to condemn or feel bitter for the wrongs done to us is a mark of impenitence and ingratitude. How easily we forget the words we pray so often when we recite the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Mt.6:12). And who are we to judge the sins of another? St Paul said: “You are without excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment. For by the standard by which you judge another you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the very same things” (Rom. 2:1).

True forgiveness means cancelling the debt, wiping the record clean. How can we say we have forgiven our spouse or friend if we still keep in our heart a record of past offenses that we recall at the next transgression? Can we say this is forgiveness from the heart?

Father God, as our Lord Jesus shows us in today’s Gospel, You forgive us in grace, and not because of anything we do to earn or deserve it. Remind us always that the offenses we endure are nothing compared to those Your Son endured on the cross for the payment of our debts. Amen.

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