Forgive and be Forgiven

Matthew 18: 21–19:1
Ez 12: 1-12 / Ps 78: 56-59, 61-62

‘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.

Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours 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 handed 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 or sister from your heart.” (Matthew 18:21—19:1)

Reflection

It strikes me as strange how a mere servant could pile up a debt to his master of ten thousand talents, which in today’s currency would be equivalent to millions of dollars. Perhaps our Lord was simply emphasizing 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 of 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 but cannot find it in their hearts to forgive the mere “one hundred denarii” 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 characterization of the unforgiving servant is so typical of our human nature. How easily we 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 all of 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 trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Mt.6:12).

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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