The Gospel according to Matthew (18:21-35)
Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive him?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who decided to settle accounts with his servants.
When he began the accounting,
a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back,
his master ordered him to be sold,
along with his wife, his children, and all his property,
in payment of the debt.
At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’
Moved with compassion the master of that servant
let him go and forgave him the loan.
When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a much smaller amount.
He seized him and started to choke him, demanding,
‘Pay back what you owe.’
Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
But he refused.
Instead, he had him put in prison
until he paid back the debt.
Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened,
they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master
and reported the whole affair.
His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?’
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”
Opening Prayer: Loving Father, thank You for forgiving me, no matter how many times I may stray from the path you have for me. Help me to imitate Your endless mercy by showing mercy to any who may hurt me. Help me to forgive from the heart, and trust that You will be with me to heal the hurts I face. Amen.
Being able to forgive is a great challenge to us as human beings. It seems so much easier to be able to hold onto resentment and grudges when someone wrongs us. We feel “justified” in having these feelings, because of the wrong done to us. But, as Jesus points out in today’s Gospel, that is not the way of a follower of Christ. Jesus even puts the goal in an even more lofty location, for not only do we have to forgive once, but repeatedly.
Peter even says in his question of our Lord, “must I forgive even seven times?” Seven, in the Bible, always refers to completion or fulfillment – think of the seven days it took for God to create the universe, as described in Genesis. So, Peter is asking if he really has to “completely” forgive, and Jesus’ response is that even “complete” forgiveness is not enough. No, He says that Peter has to forgive “seventy-seven times” (or some would read it as “seventy times seven times”). In essence, Jesus is saying that we not only are called to forgive completely from our hearts, but to do it without keeping score in any way. How can we even consider doing this?
We can do it if we ponder the amount of forgiveness that God has for each one of us. He is like the master in today’s parable who forgives the relatively small debt of one of his servants out of mercy for that person. God does no less for each one of us, no matter how many times we return to Him, and no matter how many times we return, due to the same sin that we can’t seem to banish from our lives. That bottomless well of mercy will never run out, and that’s what Jesus is saying in his response to Peter.
Our pastor used this line in his homily this past Sunday and I think it is really relevant in our thinking of this particular reading: The Bible points out that “the measure we measure will be measured back to us” at the time of the final judgment. We want God to have a very merciful judgment of each one of us. The only way that is possible is if each of us is merciful and forgiving, even though it is hard. We can’t do it on our own, but with God’s help, we can do anything. For, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:13).
It’s not our own strength that makes it possible to forgive – it is all a gift from the God who created us and who loves us. Can we be people known for forgiveness, rather than for bitterness? Can we use this Lenten journey to ask God to help us find the way to forgive completely, even as we are completely forgiven, just for asking? Let us forgive, without counting the cost, and love, because that is our calling as a follower of Jesus.
Closing Prayer: Father God, give me the grace to forgive, even and especially when it is difficult. Help me to have Your wisdom and grace to forgive completely, even as you have forgiven me. Amen.
Action for the Day: Think of a person that you need to forgive, and pray for the grace to be able to forgive that person completely! Such a blessing to have that weight off of your heart!