"Forgiveness, at least the kind that Jesus talks about, is a gift offered to the foolish and the undeserving, not a reward bestowed upon the perfect."
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
It’s hard to talk about forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a difficult subject because there are always two sides to forgiveness: The one offering it and the one receiving it.
We, as the beautifully flawed people we are, are uncomfortable with the subject knowing that we have done things that require someone else forgiving us, and we have encountered people who have wronged us to such a degree that we have not offered them forgiveness.
Which means that no matter how we come to the subject, it leaves us squirming in our pews.
It’s one thing to offer forgiveness - it gives us all the power in the world. We can draw out the pardon until our transgressor begs and pleads. We can lord it over our spouses, or our children, or our co-workers, or even our fellow church goers with a vindictive hand.
Receiving forgiveness it a whole other thing entirely. Even if the action is genuine, we can be left feeling as if the scales will never be even again, and we can walk through the rest of our lives with a shackle to a mistake from the past.
But we’re the church! Forgiveness is supposed to be easy, right?
Hey Lord, um, suppose someone in the church sins against me. Let’s say they talk about me behind my back and spread a vicious and totally untrue rumor. How many times should I forgive them? Does seven times suffice?
Hey Pete, seven is a good number, but why stop there? You should forgive seventy seven times.
I don’t know about you, but I can jump on board with a lot of this Christianity stuff. I’m all about the taking care of the last, least, and lost. I believe, with every fiber of my being that Jesus was raised from the dead.
But forgiving someone seventy seven times?
But, of course, forgiveness is not some moral requirement hanging out in the middle of nowhere. Forgiveness is all sorts of confused and tied up with the raising of the dead. Otherwise, forgiveness is just crazy.
It goes against just about everything we stand for in every other part of our lives.
There are just some things that are right and some things that are wrong. If someone does something wrong well then they have to do something right to make everything good again.
But forgiveness, at least the kind that Jesus talks about, is a gift offered to the foolish and the undeserving, not a reward bestowed upon the perfect.
Take the crucifixion…
God asks for no response to the cross, there’s no moment when Jesus is hanging by the nails and says, “So long as all of you get all your lives together, I will raise from the dead for you.”
There’s nothing we have to do before God offers an unwavering and totally covering pardon.
But, this doesn’t really jive with our sense of fairness and justice and yet, according to God’s mercy, the only thing necessary for our forgiveness is the death that sin has caused in the person of Jesus.
Jesus’ cross and resurrection contain all the power necessary for the strange thing we call the church.
And, for some reason, forgiveness is one of the most difficult things to talk about even though it is at the heart of what it means to be the church.
The emphasis from Jesus in this little prelude to the parable with Peter is that forgiveness is unlimited. 77, for lots of biblical reasons, is as close to infinity as we can get theologically.
But who really wants to forgive something or someone infinitely?
Which bring us to the parable…
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