I wonder what prompted Peter’s question? Jesus had just taught on the means of reconciliation between a brother and another brother who had sinned against him. Try and work it out with him yourself . . . if that doesn’t work bring it to the church . . . and if he listens, then you’ve gained a brother (Matt. 18:15-17). So how come Peter goes to Jesus later and asks, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (18:21)
Was it because Peter imagined a scenario where some dude might “play the system?” Where a brother, knowing that others needed to forgive him, would take advantage of it? Was Peter wondering if there was a “reasonable limit” after which enough is enough? Perhaps. More likely though, I think Peter is picking up what Jesus is laying down. That the way of the kingdom is that of grace and forgiveness. And so, he throws a number out there, not as a limit, but as a measure of generous mercy. Seven times? I got it Lord, I’d forgive . . . even seven times, I’d forgive! Apparently, current rabbinical teaching was that you needed to forgive a transgressing brother three times. Peter doubled it . . . and added one more for good measure. I get it, Lord, forgive, forgive, forgive . . . and then forgive, forgive, forgive . . . and forgive!
And Jesus says, Uh, not quite. You don’t really get it. How about seventy-seven times? How about seventy times seven times? Let me tell you a story . . .
And Jesus tells a parable of a servant who owed a king ten thousand talents (18:23-35). For all intents and purposes, that’s like a gazillion dollars. No idea how a servant could rack up that much debt on what he was making . . . maybe he bet on the Bronco’s for the Super Bowl (that was for you Seakhawks fans). But however he did it, the king demanded payment or he would sell everything, . . . including the servant, his wife and kids, . . . in order to pay off some of the debt. The servant pleads for mercy, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” No way. There was no way the servant could come up with that kind of dough. But the king has pity on the man who’s been backed into a corner with no way out. And so, the king forgives his debt. All of it. Might as well of printed, “PAID IN FULL” on the invoice.
Happy ending goes sour, though. The debt-free servant now goes to a fellow servant who owes him a hundred denarii . . . a little over three months wages. Pretty hefty sum. His buddy asks for some patience and some time to pay him back. But the answer is, No way! That’s the response of the now debt free servant . . . No way, pay me back now . . . pay me back in full, or I’ll exercise my rights to have your thrown in debtor’s prison until you can repay. Word get’s back to the king. And his master is furious, “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 the king throws the unforgiving servant into jail “until he should pay his debt” . . . that’s like forever!
Maybe we think the story’s kind of far fetched. How does some servant get so much in debt? How could a king be so merciful to excuse that much debt? How could the servant be such a doofus and then not extend similar mercy to others in similar circumstance? But, says Jesus, that’s what the kingdom of heaven is like. Showing mercy to others to the measure we have been shown mercy.
Our debt before the King of Kings was beyond paying. The sin with which we had sinned against a holy God . . . the transgression with which we had rebelled against the ways of a loving God . . . resulted in a debt we could not pay. Let every good work we could do (with no demerits for less than good works) be done for eternity and be added to our account and we still could not pay up. And the King in His mercy . . . and through His abundant grace . . . declares, “PAID IN FULL” . . . by my perfect Son . . . through the cruel cross of Calvary. The debt is gone, says the King, what’s more, I no longer call you a servant, but a son. The grace you have known . . . let it be known to others.
Forgiving the same brother or sister seven times sounds pretty generous. But it’s nothing compared to what we have been forgiven. Seventy times seven might sound over the top . . . but isn’t that the grace we have received? Over the top grace? Isn’t that the grace we should, in His power, extend?
I’m thinkin’ . . .
Lord, help me to go and do likewise. Because of Your grace . . . for Your glory . . .