September 2 | Matthew 18:21-35
The Forgiveness Challenge
by Pr. Jeff Morlock
Peter came to Jesus with a religious question. "How much forgiving should I do in order to please God?" In other words, “What is the minimum requirement?” His question implies, however, that he actually has the power to enact even the “seven times” forgiveness that he proposes. Peter asked a religious question, but Jesus didn't give Peter a religious answer, because the kind of love and forgiveness this world needs is way beyond the capacity of even our best efforts. The hardest thing in life may be to admit our need for God’s grace, and the second hardest thing may be to extend that grace to others who have sinned against us.
In Jesus’ parable, the servant’s debt far exceeded his capacity to even start repaying (some estimate the bill to be $4 trillion in today's currency). This money was for the welfare of the kingdom and its people. So to forgive such a debt meant that the king would have to pay it himself.
Add up all the debts you owe – mortgage, school loans, credit card, car payments, and monthly bills. Multiply that number by 1000 and imagine that all these loans and bills came due today. What would you do? You’d plead with the bankers. You can't pay, but you tell them you will, if they just give you more time. But they say no and demand the entire amount immediately. How would you feel if someone stepped in at that moment and covered the entire debt for you? Unburdened? Free? Joyful? Now let’s say that you run into a person who owes you $100. How many times do you forgive such a comparatively small amount, or at least give the person more time to pay off a debt that he or she actually can repay?
Peter was asked a religious question. "How many times do I have to forgive?" Jesus gave him a grace answer made possible only by His cross and resurrection. Christian faith is not about religious deeds, but a relationship with a merciful God, made possible by the sacrifice of His Son Jesus, and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
This is why the “77 times forgiveness challenge” shouldn’t overwhelm or shock us. We belong to a fellowship of forgiven forgivers where we get plenty of opportunities to practice sharing what we have been given, as God’s mercy flows to and through us. God's justice may keep evil at bay; but only God's grace can soften hearts, overcome sin and reconcile enemies.
Prayer: Ask the Holy Spirit to show you who you need to forgive or ask forgiveness from today. Pray for favor and courage. Then make that phone call. Schedule that lunch. Have that conversation. Lord God, make us die to ourselves so that we may live for you. Put to death our pride and arrogance so that we may live in forgiveness instead of bitterness. In Jesus’ name. Amen.