The Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Matthew 18:21-19:1....
Then Peter came and said to him, 'Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. 'For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, "Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything." And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, "Pay what you owe." Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, "Have patience with me, and I will pay you." But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, "You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?" And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.' When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan.Peter goes right to the heart of the issue of handling conflicts with people. As hard as it is to confront others when they have sinned against us, what is even harder sometimes is to forgive. That's why Peter asks, "How many times do I have to forgive?"
In any marriage, family, church, workplace, or close community, people are sinning against each other all the time, often without realizing it. To forgive someone one time is tough, but to forgive someone over and over again for the same offense is even harder. Thus Peter wants to limit the number of times he has to forgive his brother. Poor Andrew! I wonder if he was standing right there when Peter asked this question.
The Rabbis said that if you forgive someone three times then you are a perfect person. Peter is even willing to double that and add one to it. But Jesus says that is not enough. Jesus says we need to forgive seventy-seven times, or seventy times seven. Jesus probably said this with a smile on his face. It was a clever way of saying that we need to forgive and keep on forgiving without limit, for that is how God forgives us. Then Jesus tells a story to illustrate the point.
The servant in the story owes the king ten thousand talents. That would be the equivalent of millions of dollars today. The king was going to sell the man and his family so that he could reap some benefit.
Notice how the servant in the story tries to buy off the king. "Be patient with me and I'll pay back everything." There's no way he can do that.
The king offers a better solution. He cancels the servant's debt.
What was the servant's response to the king's generous forgiveness? Did he go out and behave toward others as the king had behaved toward him? No way! When a fellow servant owed him only a few dollars he had the man thrown in prison until he could repay the debt.
And how did the king respond to that when he found out? He turned the servant over to the jailers to be tortured until he should pay back all he owed.
What is Jesus' point in telling this story? The point is simple but startling: if we don't forgive others, the very channel by which we alone can receive God's forgiveness is blocked, like a water pipe frozen solid in the middle of winter.
Why do we have such trouble forgiving others? Perhaps it is because we have forgotten how much the Lord has forgiven us.
All of us have run a long way in the wrong direction. The good news is that God has given us a chance to start over in Christ. In fact, he gives us many chances to start over.
Who do we need to give a chance to start over? Who do we need to forgive? Who do we need to remind that the game is only half over?
The only way we can forgive is by God's grace. None of us have the power, in and of ourselves. But Jesus does. He can give us the power and the love to handle conflicts with people in the best way possible. Why not ask him for that power and love today?