Day Twenty-six: Monday, July 13th, 2020
Bible Lesson: Matthew 18:21-35
Reflection from Pastor Wayne Eberly:
“How many times shall I forgive…”
Peter asks Jesus a question about forgiveness. Peter asks his question about forgiveness in the context of a relationship between two human beings. Peter asks, “How many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?” Peter asks if he should forgive up to seven times.
How does Jesus answer? First, he gives an answer that blows Peter’s attempt at generous forgiveness out of the water. Peter had set the bar at seven times. It seems clear that for Peter he had set the bar pretty high. To forgive seven times, that would be to go above and beyond. Jesus takes a look at how high Peter has set the bar, seven times, and says, “Not even close.” Jesus says, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” More than likely your bible will have a footnote that the answer of Jesus can also be translated as seventy times seven. Either way, Jesus raises the bar for forgiveness far beyond anything Peter ever imagined.
But Jesus does not let his answer be the final word. Rather, Jesus tells a story. The story is significant. The story serves to let people of faith know that forgiveness is not simply acted out in the context of human relationships. Jesus portrays human forgiveness as an action that takes place in the context of the divine/human relationship. The story helps us to understand how Jesus ever got to the number he arrived at, seventy-seven times, or even seventy times seven.
The story is told like so many of the parables. The parable is set in the context of the kingdom of heaven. The parable begins with the king granting forgiveness of a huge debt, a debt that is nearly incomprehensible. Follow the story through and listen for how Jesus speaks to you. But as you follow the story through, remember where it begins. The king grants forgiveness of a huge debt that can never be paid. That is an accurate summary of our relationship to God. Our King, our Father in heaven, our Lord Jesus Christ, grants us forgiveness of a huge debt that can never be paid.
Jesus is able to tell this parable because if Israel has paid attention to the relationship they have with God, they are able to see themselves in this parable. From the first moments of the divine human relationship, God has been a forgiving God. The sin in the garden is met with God covering Adam and Eve with animal garments. One meaning of the word atonement is to cover. The very first sin of our human parents is covered with God’s forgiveness, mercy, and grace. That first act of atonement is not the last. Atonement is built into the fabric of Jewish life, into the fabric of the divine/human relationship. The whole system of sacrifices was established to make clear to the people that God was prepared to deal with their sin by bringing forgiveness. One of the three major feasts the Israelites celebrated was the Day of Atonement. The prophet Isaiah proclaimed the good news that though our sin is like scarlet, God will make it as white as snow. The Psalmist rejoiced that as far as the east is from the west, so far has our God removed our sin from us.
In telling the parable, Jesus is gently reminding Israel that they are a people who have been forgiven a huge debt, a debt that has been forgiven over and over and over again because God is a forgiving God. The parable stings because the forgiveness that has been given in the context of the divine/human relationship is not practiced by the servant who has been forgiven the great amount. When he encounters a fellow servant and has the opportunity to practice forgiveness, he fails to show mercy.
As we struggle with the question of how often we should forgive a brother or sister who sins against us, let us never forget the power of this parable. Our acts of forgiveness are not only in the context of our human relationships. We have a relationship with the One who has granted us Amazing Grace, Unconditional Love, Pardon for our sin, atonement, and forgiveness for all our sin. The power of God’s forgiveness empowers us to be a people who practice a merciful and generous forgiveness with our fellow human beings.
These words about Peter’s question regarding forgiveness may be helpful as you consider the
parable Jesus tells in today’s reading. “Peter’s proposal to forgive seven times sounds extravagantly generous, especially since there is no mention of repentance by the
offending party. It reverses the sevenfold pronouncement of vengeance in Genesis 4:15. Jesus’ response is far beyond Peter’s proposal, and not only in greatly extending the quantity. The Greek number can be legitimately understood as ‘seventy seven times’ or ‘four hundred ninety times’. The difference between Peter’s proposal and Jesus’ pronouncement is not a matter of math or linguistics, but of the nature of forgiveness. Whoever counts has not forgiven at all, but is only biding his or her time. The kind of forgiveness called for is beyond all calculation, as the following story communicates.” (M. Eugene Boring, Matthew: The New Interpreter’s Bible, p. 380).