The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary & meditation 
 "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?"

Scripture:  Matthew 18:21-35

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" 22 Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.23 "Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; 25 and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, `Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' 27 And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, `Pay what you owe.' 29 So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, `Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' 30 He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken  place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, `You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; 33 and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?' 34 And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart."
Meditation: How does mercy and justice go together?  The prophet Amos speaks of God forgiving transgression three times, but warns that God may not revoke punishment for the fourth (see Amos 1:3-13; 2:1-6).  When Peter posed the question of forgiveness, he characteristically offered an answer he thought Jesus would be pleased with.  Why not forgive seven times!  How unthinkable for Jesus to counter with the proposition that one must forgive seventy times that.  Jesus made it clear that there is no reckonable limit to forgiveness.  And he drove the lesson home with a parable about two very different kinds of debts.  The first man owed an enormous sum of money -- millions in our currency.  In Jesus' time this amount was greater than the total revenue of a province -- more than it would cost to ransom a king!  The man who was forgiven such an incredible debt could not, however bring himself to forgive his neighbor a very small debt which was about one-hundred-thousandth of his own debt.  The contrast could not have been greater!  No offence our neighbor can do to us can compare with our debt to God! We have been forgiven a debt which is beyond all paying; to ransom our debt of sin God gave up his only begotten Son. If God has forgiven each of us our debt, which was very great, we, too must forgive others the debt they owe us.  Jesus teaches that one must forgive in order to be forgiven. If we do not forgive our fellow man we cannot expect God to forgive us. James says that judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy (James 2:13).  Mercy is truly a gift and it is offered in such a way that justice is not negated.  Mercy "seasons" justice as "salt" seasons meat and gives it flavor.  Mercy follows justice and perfects it.  To pardon the unrepentant is not mercy  but license.  C.S. Lewis, a contemporary Christian author wrote: "Mercy will flower only when it grows in the crannies of the rock of Justice: transplanted to the marshlands of mere Humanitarianism, it becomes a man-eating weed, all the more dangerous because it is still called by the same name as the mountain variety."  If we want mercy shown to us we must be ready to forgive others as God has forgiven us. Do you hold any grudge or resentment towards anyone?

"Lord, you have been kind and forgiving towards me.  May I be merciful as you are merciful.  Free me from  all bitterness and resentment that I may truly forgive from the heart those who have caused me injury or grief."


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(c) 2002 Don Schwager