By Eric J. Brown
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?” (Matthew 18:21)
The question Peter asks Jesus seems quite reasonable. Really, it is, at least from a simple, worldly perspective. How many times do I forgive someone before it’s better to just cut him out of my life? How many times do I have to delete a comment before I just block her? How many times do I have to roll my eyes before I can just walk away? In the world this is a very reasonable and practical question–and Peter gives what, from the world’s perspective, is a generous answer. Seven times? We have “Three strikes and you’re out.” We have “Once bitten, twice shy.” Peter, from the world’s perspective, is really generous.
However, forgiveness isn’t a worldly thing. Forgiveness isn’t just putting up with someone or ignoring them. Forgiveness is a “God thing” to do, and when God does something, God does it with over the top abundance. Not seven times, but 70 times 7. And to show how overabundant God is with mercy, Jesus tells a story.
There’s a fellow who owes his king 10,000 talents. That would be like owing someone five billion dollars. And the fellow begs, promises to pay the king back, but he can’t, not in this lifetime. And the king forgives him. Now, some might find this surprising, but it’s clear that the king is already ridiculously generous–he keeps loaning money to this fellow already. So the king stays generous–it’s not surprising.
The same fellow whose debt was canceled then shakes down a fellow servant who owes him 100 Denarii–say $12,000. That $12,000 was probably the king’s cash in the first place that was then loaned out again. And things get nasty and mean, the second guy is thrown into jail. And that’s when the king’s patience runs out. That’s when the king throws the jerk into jail–not because of what he owed the king, but because he refused to be merciful as the king was merciful to him.
The point is this: God is merciful. Incredibly merciful. So merciful to us we can’t even really see how deep and rich His mercy is. And so we need to be very careful in this life not to start putting limits on mercy. Once we start doing that, we can forget that God shows us continual and abundant mercy. We step away from that mercy. So no, instead remember at all times the great and overflowing love and mercy that God has for you in Christ. He’s not taking a count to see when He can cut you off from forgiveness; instead He is faithful and His steadfast love for you endures forever.
Rev. Eric J. Brown is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Herscher, Illinois
This article was originally published on the Higher Things website in November 2017.