We all know well what Jesus said in response to Peter’s question about how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him: Peter asked if seven times was enough and Jesus responded “seventy-seven times.” The message here is that there is not a number of times that you should forgive someone for sinning against you before you don’t have to forgive them anymore. What always gets me, though, is the parable that Jesus spoke immediately after this exchange. The passage is found in Matthew 18:23 – 35 and is referred to as the “Parable of the Unmerciful Servant” in which a servant begs for forgiveness from the master when he cannot repay the debt, but then turns around and does not extend the same courtesy to another who owes the servant a much smaller amount. What struck me was the difference in the amounts. I have never focused on this before, but for some reason I did this time when I read the passage. In the NIV version of the Bible, the amount that the servant owes the master is 10,000 bags of gold. In today’s terminology that would be the equivalent of you owing the Bank 1 quintrillion dollars. To see just how much money that is – it is $1,000,000,000,000,000,000.00. In other words, it is impossible to pay back that much money in a lifetime. That is the debt that we owe to God for our sin. But, God has shown mercy on us. He has shown us grace, and he has forgiven the debt. We have not done anything to deserve it, but because he loves us, he has done it anyway.
So, what then, are we supposed to do? Well, Jesus’ parable supplies the answer to that as well. In the parable, we are told that immediately after the master forgave the servant’s debt, the servant came upon someone who owed him “a hundred silver coins” (so you owe God $1,000,000,000,000,000,000.00, and someone owes you $10,000 or even $100,000 – either way it is significantly less than $1,000,000,000,000,000,000.00). Jesus said that the servant treated the person who owed him money very severely – showing no mercy – and throwing the person in prison. The master’s response when he heard how the forgiven servant acted was to “hand him over to the jailers to be tortured,until he should pay back all he owed.” Remember that the amount that the servant owed to the master could not be repaid – it was impossible. We are a forgiven people. Through Jesus Christ, we have been redeemed. We have done nothing to deserve this except beg for forgiveness and it has been given to us through God’s grace. In turn, we are expected to do likewise when people sin against us in ways that are far smaller than what we have done to God. For us, forgiveness is free. In turn, we are to freely forgive. During this season of Lent, I pray that we will all focus our attention on the sacrifice that Christ has made so that we may be forgiven. In turn, I pray that we will do likewise and freely forgive those who sin against us showing those who sin against us the abundant love that Christ has shown to us.
G. Grant Greenwood