A Lesson in Forgiveness
JESUS is apparently still in the house in Capernaum with his disciples. He has been discussing with them how to handle difficulties between brothers, so Peter asks: “Lord, how many times is my brother to sin against me and am I to forgive him?” Since Jewish religious teachers propose granting forgiveness up to three times, Peter probably considers it very generous to suggest “up to seven times?”
But the whole idea of keeping such a record is wrong. Jesus corrects Peter: “I say to you, not, Up to seven times, but, Up to seventy-seven times.” He is showing that no limit should be put on the number of times Peter forgives his brother.
To impress on the disciples their obligation to be forgiving, Jesus tells them an illustration. It is about a king who wants to settle accounts with his slaves. One slave is brought to him who owes the enormous debt of 60,000,000 denarii. There is no way that he can possibly pay it. So, as Jesus explains, the king orders that he and his wife and his children be sold and payment be made.
At that the slave falls down at his master’s feet and begs: “Be patient with me and I will pay back everything to you.”
Moved with pity for him, the master mercifully cancels the slave’s enormous debt. But no sooner has he done so, Jesus continues, than this slave goes and finds a fellow slave who owes him only 100 denarii. The man grabs his fellow slave by the throat and begins choking him, saying: “Pay back whatever you owe.”
But the fellow slave does not have the money. So he falls at the feet of the slave to whom he is in debt, begging: “Be patient with me and I will pay you back.” Unlike his master, the slave is not merciful, and he has his fellow slave thrown into prison.
Well, Jesus continues, the other slaves who saw what had happened go and tell the master. He angrily summons the slave. “Wicked slave,” he says, “I canceled all that debt for you, when you entreated me. Ought you not, in turn, to have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I also had mercy on you?” Provoked to wrath, the master delivers the unmerciful slave over to the jailers until he should pay back all that he owes.
Then Jesus concludes: “In like manner my heavenly Father will also deal with you if you do not forgive each one his brother from your hearts.”
What a fine lesson in forgiveness! Compared with the large debt of sin that God has forgiven us, whatever transgression may be committed against us by a Christian brother is small indeed. Furthermore, Jehovah God has forgiven us thousands of times. Often, we are not even aware of our sins against him. Therefore, can we not forgive our brother a few times, even if we have a legitimate cause for complaint? Remember, as Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, God will “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Matthew 18:21-35; 6:12; Colossians 3:13.
▪ What prompts Peter’s question about forgiving his brother, and why may he consider his suggestion of forgiving someone seven times to be generous?
▪ How does the response of the king to his slave’s plea for mercy differ from the response of the slave to a fellow slave’s plea?
▪ What do we learn from Jesus’ illustration?