Seventy Times Seven
Today we have another difficult lesson from our Lord, but one that brings great peace and comfort to those who live it. It’s about forgiveness and how we as a forgiven people have been released to forgive others – and the consequences for not doing so. I remember an older sister in Christ who told me that withholding forgiveness for others only poisons one’s own soul, and she was right. (Please note that we are here speaking of personal relations and not how we are to handle matters in the church, which were covered yesterday.)
The account begins with Peter asking the Lord how many times he should forgive his brother, suggesting the generous number of seven. Jesus responds, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven,” or “seventy-seven times,” depending on translation. The point is not the number of times, be it 490 or 77, but continued forgiveness. Then Jesus illustrates his teaching with a parable: A servant owes his master an insurmountable debt. My Bible notes read that ten thousand talents is today’s equivalent of six billion dollars. The master demands payment, even the selling of his wife and children. The servant falls on his knees begging for time that he may pay his master all he owes – an impossible task. The master forgives him the entire debt out of pity. Then that same servant goes and finds a fellow-servant who owes him what my Bible notes say would be equal to about $12,000 today, a lot of money but insignificant compared to six billion. Rather than showing compassion, he even clutches his fellow-servant by the throat, and then has him thrown in prison. The other servants report this to the master who then condemns the first servant for not showing his fellow-servant the same mercy he had shown to him, and then has him thrown in prison.
We see the obvious hypocrisy in this, but do we apply it to ourselves? We are those who owe our Father a sum of money we could never repay. Our sins reach the heights of heaven. So who are we to hold other people’s sins over their heads? It is true that Peter’s question and the parable itself speak of “brothers,” but we remember that our Lord pronounced forgiveness from the cross over Jews and Roman soldiers alike, even as he was dying (Luke 23:34). The parable ends with: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” Inability to forgive others is evidence that we have not experienced God’s forgiveness in our own lives. Don’t poison your own heart; forgive!