Jesus has just laid for his disciples a process for dealing with sin in His church. It deals heavily with forgiveness. Peter comes to Jesus and asks the very practical question that is on most people’s minds: how many times must we forgive?
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother…
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.
When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.””
Matthew 18:15, 21-35 ESV
Jesus points to the magnitude of our own sin
As Jesus so often does, He turns the disciples question on its head. While the disciples want to know how many times they must forgive, Jesus switches his attention to their hearts. First He tells them they must forgive far more than they ever realized by telling them they must forgive 77 times instead of 7. He then shifts His attention to how much they themselves have been forgiven and what implication that has for their own hearts by telling a parable.
Jesus tells us that the servant owed the King 10,000 talents. A talent was equal to 20 years wages! He owed 200,000 years wages! At $30,000 a year in wages that is six billion dollars! If we go by the weight in gold for a talent, he owed $14 Billion Dollars! This man owed an amount that he could never payback. Ever. On top of that unless the King was a very poor lender, it is likely that much of this debt came about because the servant was abusing his relationship with the king. He begs the king for his freedom, and the king generously forgives his debt. This man should be overjoyed at his fate, but we see that this generosity has made no difference in his life. It seems that his begging may not have been genuine after all, but merely a con to avoid punishment.
Jesus points to the smallness of sins against us
While the servant owed $14 billion, he was owed only about $10,000 by his fellow servant. This scene plays out in very similar ways to the first, except we see the first indications that this man has not internalized his own forgiveness. When he finds his fellow servant who owes him, he chokes him! Now, I have been angry before, but I have never been so angry with someone that I began to choke them. The guy goes all Darth Vader on the one who owes him money. This fellow servant begs him for patience and mercy using the same words the first servant did with the king. Those words should have echoed in his heart and moved him to a place of humility so that he could truly repent and show mercy especially given the magnitude of his own debt. However, they did not, and he did not. He harbored hatred in his heart for his fellow servant, and he has him thrown in prison over a pretty trivial amount of funds.
Jesus Warns in the Strongest Terms
Jesus then gives us the point of the story: if we have been forgiven so much and yet will not forgive those who have offended us, then that debt we thought was forgiven will be required of us. In other words, Jesus is saying if we let grudges and hatred fester in our hearts towards others, we are in danger of losing our soul. No, that is too mild! He says we will lose our souls if we refuse to forgive!
A person who truly comprehends what has been done for him will act in generosity. He will see that his own sin against God is huge, and others’ offenses are very small. This motivates and drives us to act in kindness and compassion toward those who offend us. I also imagine if this man had been truly appreciative of what had been done for him, he would have been telling this servant, “I have been forgiven more than I could ever repay by our great king so consider your debt nothing. All is forgiven.” Our hearts should move not only in compassion, but we should tell of what has been done for us.
If you do not forgive and yet you say that you have become a follower of Christ, then you deceive yourself. Your heart has not been transformed by grace. Jesus is warning you in the parable that you have not believed the gospel. You are in danger of being one who will cry out to him on the day that he returns saying, “Lord, Lord did we not do great things in your name.” Yet He sent them away saying He never knew them.
How many times should we forgive? An infinite number. If we believe the gospel, in humility we must admit we have sinned infinitely against God and others. Therefore, we must be willing to extend that same generosity to our fellow servants whose offenses shrink in comparison to our own. If this is not a mark of your life, then examine your heart and repent. See your debt that has been forgiven, and forgive others. Believe the gospel!