Matthew 18:21-35

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.” Matthew 18:21-35

”Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” What do we make of these words? No one would think to carry around a special sin counting calculator – “That’s 78, no more forgiveness for you!” Or maybe they would. So Jesus backs up his words with a story.

His story puts flesh on the bones of the widely shared guide to loving our neighbors, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The obvious point of the story is that we, having been fully and mercifully forgiven by God, ought to therefore fully forgive our neighbors. Not to earn God’s favor but as our response to it. As the writer of 1 John would later put it, “We love, because God first loved us.

Forgiveness is God’s answer to sin. From the cross Jesus would later say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Those are haunting words to me. I hear them and it strikes me that, on at least one level, those who crucified Jesus and those who taunted him in his misery, knew exactly what they were doing. They might not have fully known or accepted who he was. They might have misunderstood his mission in life. But this was not the first rodeo for those who drove the nails in. Crucifixion was not an unknown way for people to die. Yet the crowds still gathered, like the picnicking crowds at a lynching.

What if they had known? Would they have still treated Jesus to such a violent death? Maybe not. Maybe they might have known better. Maybe they would have treated Jesus better.

Perhaps this is the key to understanding Jesus’ call to a life of meeting sin with forgiveness. For Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, would have us see him in the face of every person whom Jesus loves and forgives. Matthew will later tell us, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

We come at life from a place of forgiveness as our response to God’s forgiveness of us. And we come at life from a place of forgiveness because we recognize Jesus in the face of our neighbor. Now we know.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we sin against our neighbor through what we do and through what we fail to do. Our sin sometimes drives us to blaming and victimizing others. Sometimes we internalize it in shame and self loathing. Always we stand before a wide open door that promises healing and relief – to forgive as we have been forgiven. To forgive others and to allow the good news of your forgiveness to sink in deeply and heal us from the inside out. May this be healing balm in our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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2 Responses to “Matthew 18:21-35”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    To everyone on the prayer chain: The man suffering from Alcohol Addiction, an open wound on his foot and obesity. He was hospitalized at Memorial Herman in the med center, is getting care and help for his addiction. Thanks be to God
    Susan

  2. Dave Armstrong Says:

    Preach on! You tell like it should be!!!

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