Sunday Readings: Sirach 27.30—28.7, Romans 14.7-9, Matthew 18.21-35
Peter came and asked Jesus this question. “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy times seven” (Matthew 18.21).
Then Jesus tells a parable. A king forgives a servant’s debt only to discover the same servant has thrown into prison two servants who owed him debts. Why doesn’t the servant forgive as he has been forgiven? Why inflict a punishment he has pleaded not to receive?
Forgiveness was not the normal thing in the merciless servant’s world. Putting a debtor in prison or selling a family into slavery were customary ways to settle accounts. The king’s mercy was astoundingly abnormal. He didn’t just give the servant time to pay him back. He wrote off the debt—completely!
The servant’s treatment of his fellow servants becomes unfair only in light of the king’s extraordinary mercy. That’s the parable’s message: Things have changed! The reign of God turns things inside out, backwards, and upside down. Those who wish to live in this kingdom must treat those who owe them or who have offended them very differently than before. Mercy and forgiveness, not payback and punishment, are now the norm.
It’s hard to let go of what others owe us, hard to give up the sense of being wronged and the desire to be compensated. Like Peter, we want to count. The risen Jesus brings peace to his disciples on Easter evening and calls them to be a reconciling community. It’s still our call today.
Who has forgiven you? Whom have you failed to forgive?