Matthew 18: 21-35

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.”

Understanding And Applying the Text

Jesus said some scary things and this passage is one of them.

It is human nature to seek and even demand forgiveness. If we are not forgiven we complain. We claim we have suffered an injustice if we are not forgiven. But what are the results of unlimited forgiveness? It is an invitation to continue to offend. So Peter comes to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” The Rabbis taught 3 times. Peter thought he was more generous than even the number taught by the Rabbis. Peter thought seven was a large number. Hebrew numerology considered seven the perfect number.

But Jesus rejected the idea that too much forgiveness invites continued sinning. Jesus said seven times was not even close. But seventy-seven times.

So what does it mean to forgive? If someone harms us we are to lay aside all desire to seek revenge. We are to continue to love him. We are to even repay with kindness. God commands us to wish our enemies well. He does not demand that we approve of what He condemns. But we are to purify our minds of hatred.

Jesus explained it to Peter in a parable. The kingdom of heaven is like a king who had a servant who owed 10,000 talents. In the first century, Palestine did not have dollars they had denarii and talents. A denarius was a day’s wage. A talent was 6000 denarii or about 16 years’ wages. This servant owned 160,000 years’ wages. There was no way for him to pay it. Yet he promised the king to pay it all. The king only needed to have patience. There was no way he could pay it.

The king demanded the servant, the servant’s wife and family, and all his possessions sold to pay the debt. This was the King’s right. But the servant pleaded with him and the king did not give him more time. The King forgave the debt. You can imagine the joy and relief the servant had. He could not return to life as normal. He was free of his debt.

The servant went out and found another servant who owed him a much smaller amount of money. It was no small sum. It was 100 denarii, about 3 months’ wages. The latter servant begged for more time. The first servant refused to give it. He had the later servant thrown in debtors’ jail until he paid the amount. Again this was his right.

When the king heard about this it angered him. The first servant had received mercy but refused to give mercy. The servant could not manage what he was given. He abused the mercy he received.

The King treated this servant as the servant treated his fellow servant. The king threw the servant in jail until he paid everything he owed. That meant the servant was in jail forever.

As a child, a Sunday School teacher taught this parable. She said Christ meant we were to forgive an unlimited number of times. But I am more of a literalist. I thought to myself, it says 77 times. So I only need to forgive 77 times.

I have a brother whom I love dearly. But as a child, he was always upsetting me. So, I only needed to forgive him 77 times. Then I would never have to forgive him again. I wanted to be sure I forgave 77 times. So, I took a piece of paper and marked it every time I forgave him. I learned he was not as bad as I thought. Even forgiving 7 times would take a while. So I started looking for things to forgive him for. The slightest transgression would receive a mark on my page. Even so, things were going much slower than I thought they would.

After a few weeks, I lost the paper. I could not remember how many marks were on the page. And I wanted to be sure and have an accurate count. So, I needed to start over. This time I put the paper somewhere I thought was safe and started over. After a few weeks, the paper was gone. My mother found this scrap piece of paper and threw it away.

I figured this was going to be a pattern I would never reach 77.

Then one evening I was praying and asked God to forgive me for my sins. I said “I don’t know how many times I have sinned but am sure it is more than 77 times. But could you please forgive me one more time? This came to me. “I forgive you and I have lost the paper.”

As Christians, we should be the most forgiving people on the planet

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