This is the third post in a mini-series among the Tangible Truths that our Radical Jesus has challenged us with. We talked about loving our enemies, we talked about loving our neighbor, even if that neighbor is an enemy. And as we have talked about loving others, we will finish this mini-series by looking at what true forgiveness is in relation to the love we are called to show to others. Our text is Matthew 18. verses 21-35.
Here we see Peter comes to Jesus and asks a bit of a loaded question. “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Now there is not a lot of context here as to what Peter may have been thinking, but I picture it as Peter attempting to show Jesus how he “gets it”. He is showing Jesus he understands what Jesus has been teaching and demonstrates this learning with what he feels like is a pretty radical concept. Forgive someone seven times? After all teaching of the day suggested that forgiving 3 times was the limit. So imagine how Peter’s mind would be blown by the answer of seventy times seven. If Peter is attempting to prove the depth of his spirituality, he is outdone by Jesus answer.
But here is the way my mind was blown as I was studying this story. I read it just a couple days after a bible study that focused on 1 Corinthians 13. And there in the midst of that chapter, clear as day, it says in verse 5 (love) keeps no record of wrongs. Did you catch that? Now let’s put it together with the “loving others” we’ve been talking about for the past few Tangible Truths. If we are loving others, we are not to keep record of the wrongs they do to us. If we are loving them, we will not dig out our tally sheet and put another notch on the page beside their name. That is not loving forgiveness. And again, Jesus models this for us as the writer of Hebrews reminds us in Hebrews 8.12 “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”
But in case you missed it, Jesus drives his point home with a parable. He talks about a servant who owed a great debt to the King who has called for his debts to be settled. This servant doesn’t have the means to repay the large debt and the King calls for him and his family to be sold to repay what they owed. The servant pleads with the King, and the King, taking pity on him, releases him and forgives the debt completely. He owes nothing!
This servant, freed from this penalty, finds another man who owes him a small sum. Like the servant with the king, this man also pleads for mercy, saying he cannot repay the debt. Finding that unacceptable, the servant grabs the second man by the neck and begins to choke him. He then has that man thrown in prison until the small debt could be repaid. Word got back to the King who called the first servant back in, reinstated the debt and had the first servant thrown into prison until the large amount he owed was paid in full.
We deserve to be on the hook to repay everything that has been done for us, but God knowing that we will never be able to repay that debt, doesn’t require it of us. He has cancelled the debt and freed us from any sentence that it held. But as we discussed in the previous two Tangible Truths, He calls us to do the same for others – forgive them, not hold their actions against them and remember that we are no better than them. We also have been forgiven of much greater offenses than another person could ever commit against us.
I am challenged by these lessons on love. It is so much easier to hold on to grudges and withhold mercy and forgiveness when people hurt us. But if we want to follow the example Jesus set for us – if we want to follow His teaching and live the life He calls us to, then we are compelled to remember that He calls us to love others – our neighbors, our enemies, those who are hurtful to us. I pray that I will never again overlook these lessons and that His presence in my life would be demonstrated by helping me carry out His commands to love and forgive.