No, not seven times,” answered Jesus, “but seventy times seven, because the Kingdom of heaven is like this.
Once there was a king who decided to check on his servants’ accounts. He had just begun to do so when one of them was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. The servant did not have enough to pay his debt, so the king ordered him to be sold as a slave, with his wife and his children and all that he had, in order to pay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before the king. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay you everything!’ The king felt sorry for him, so he forgave him the debt and let him go.
Then the man went out and met one of his fellow servants who owed him a few dollars. He grabbed him and started choking him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he said. His fellow servant fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back!’ But he refused; instead, he had him thrown into jail until he should pay the debt.
When the other servants saw what had happened, they were very upset and went to the king and told him everything. So he called the servant in. ‘You worthless slave!’ he said. ‘I forgave you the whole amount you owed me, just because you asked me to. You should have had mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you.’ The king was very angry, and he sent the servant to jail to be punished until he should pay back the whole amount.
That is how my Father in heaven will treat every one of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.
Here is the setup for this parable. Jesus has emphasized the importance of forgiveness by including it in the Lord’s Prayer (Day 43) and then following up with these words, “If you forgive others the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done.” (Matthew 6:14-15). Jesus also warned his disciples about judging others (Day 54): “Do not judge others, so that God will not judge you, for God will judge you in the same way you judge others, and he will apply to you the same rules you apply to others.” (Matthew 7:1-2).
In today’s scripture, Peter understands that Jesus teaches followers to forgive others, but he has a logistical question: “Lord, if my brother keeps on sinning against me, how many times do I have to forgive him? Seven times?” It’s a valid question. Peter wants a guideline. He doesn’t want to be more forgiving than necessary. He doesn’t want to be taken advantage of. Jesus responds with this famous challenge that we must forgive seventy times seven times, practically an infinite number of times. We must always forgive…from the heart. Easier said than done. And then he offers them this parable often referred to as “The Unforgiving Servant.” A king forgives his servant’s debt, but the servant does not extend the same forgiveness to his fellow servant. The king hears about it, reinstates the servant’s debt, and throws him into jail until he pays it all off.
One resource that has been very helpful for me on my journey is a little pamphlet called “The Importance of Forgiveness” by John Arnott. It’s only 38 pages and you can buy it on Amazon for about $5.00. Here is how it starts in Chapter 1 – Mercy Triumphs Over Justice: Forgiveness is a key to blessing. Forgiveness and repentance open up our hearts and allow the river of God to flow freely in us. We need to give the Holy Spirit permission to bring to our minds things that need to be resolved in our hearts. Three things are vital to seeing a powerful release of the Spirit of God in our own lives and in the world around us.
First, we need a revelation of how big God is. We must know that absolutely nothing is impossible for him. Second, we need a revelation of how loving he is, how much he cares for us, and how he is absolutely committed to loving us to life. Finally, we need a revelation of how we can walk in that love and give it away.
I have pastored for over seventeen years. One thing I have discovered is that woundedness and devastation in people’s hearts and lives saps much of their energy and resources.
He goes on to discuss judgment and mercy:
Justice is good, but mercy is better. Justice means that if you hurt me, I can hurt you. If you wrong someone, then that wrong must be made right. Our sense of justice understands this. An eye for and eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life. Very, very fair.
If you want justice, then you will be dealt with by the same rules. It is the arena in which Satan really shines. He is the master prosecutor, the master accuser. There is, however a place to go where Satan cannot follow and accuse. It is the place of grace, mercy, love and forgiveness. It is a higher and better place. If we live in grace and mercy, Satan cannot follow us there. He has no rights there. If you spend 80 percent of your time on the judgment/justice level, then Satan has the right to beat you 80 percent of the time.
Much energy is expended in keeping our angers, hurts, and fears pushed down. We are often not even in touch with those things in ourselves. But as we live in mercy and grace, releasing and forgiving others from these issues, we will find his yoke is easy and his burden is light.
Finally, he ends with a prayer for all of us:
We worship you, Father. We come and acknowledge our need. We ask for the presence of the Holy Spirit to come and help us. We choose mercy over judgment. We want to give gifts of forgiveness to those who hurt us and those who don’t deserve it. We want to defeat the enemy and take away his legal rights to harm us.
Father, I choose to forgive the ones who have hurt me so deeply and sinned against me. I forgive my mother. I forgive my father. I forgive my brothers. I forgive my sisters. I forgive my husband. I forgive my wife. I forgive my employers and my pastors and my friends and everyone who has sinned against me. I give them the gift of unconditional forgiveness, with no strings attached. They owe me nothing. I trust God and turn it for good. Lord, I also forgive myself for my own failures and mistakes. I let go of it all.
There’s more, but I’m just sharing this little sample with you. If you don’t want to be punished you need to show mercy to others. You must pass on the mercy you have received. Otherwise, like it says in the parable, you will lose your freedom and live in the darkness of a prison cell of your own making.
John Arnott gets it. When we hold on to unforgiveness we hurt ourselves far more than we hurt those who are the object of our pain. God doesn’t require us to forgive because he likes to impose arbitrary rules; Jesus shares with us something critical about the nature of the human race that God created. We cannot be at peace with ourselves if we are not at peace with others. We are all connected.
Is forgiveness easy? Not for me. It think it’s a process. When someone hurts me I just keep praying for God to help me forgive, and it always works eventually. Sooner or later I let go of the past and whatever hurt me doesn’t really matter anymore. I can once again look at the offending person without resentment or anger or pain. Eventually my peace is restored.
Well, that’s about it. What does this scripture say to you?