Peter came and said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if another member of the church 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.’
The king in Jesus’ parable said: 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?
Today’s reading focuses on the issue of forgiveness. In the Lord’s Prayer we say: And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And, today we hear Jesus say that we should forgive those who offend us: not seven times, but … seventy-seven times. That number … seventy-seven … is linguistic code for ‘times without number’, an infinite number of times! Today’s reading and the words that trip so readily from our tongues as we recite the Lord’s Prayer present us with one of the greatest challenges of our faith … that of forgiveness.
As we travel through our day-to-day existence we hear of and experience many things that cause us pain. We hear of people being cruel to one another, we hear of injustice and prejudice, and we witness the uncaring self-interest and ambition of those who seek to elbow their way to the front of every queue, no matter what pain that may inflict upon others. As we hear of these, and other tales of the horrific way in which humanity interacts, we often find ourselves giving thanks that such inhumanity is not being inflicted upon us. But, how often do we pause to look at ourselves, and analyse how our words and actions are contributing to the pain and misery of others? Too often we are quick to denounce the actions of others, even to the point of declaring: I can never forgive … But what about our capacity, or lack of it, to offer forgiveness?
Jesus came into this world to bring forgiveness and a new relationship with his Heavenly Father. By sharing in our human condition Jesus showed us what it means to forgive, even to the point of praying for those who were nailing him to the cross. Unfortunately, our capacity for forgiveness is not as self-less as that of Jesus, but that is the gold standard towards which we should be striving.
When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray he included words that should challenge our thirst for retribution and revenge: And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Today, and every day, we are called to reflect upon those words. We are called to live them out as we strive to draw closer and closer to our loving and forgiving God.
Let us pray that we might set aside our thirst for revenge and that which we claim to be our ‘right’, and that we might be Christ-like in our capacity to forgive. Let us pray for those whose words and actions cause us pain. As we draw nearer to the moment when we will witness the baying mob inflicting their anger and revenge on the One who came to bring salvation, let us pray that we might find the strength to step back and pray that they might be forgiven … just as Jesus did as the nails were hammered into his weak and vulnerable flesh.
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