Tonight we will read from the book of Matthew and will resume our study from last week in chapter 18 with verses 15-35. If you are able, please read the verses before engaging with me in the study below.
In the first group of verses, 15-20, Jesus explains how to deal with a person that is sinning against you within the church. There is a process to follow outlined by Jesus that assures a confidentiality at first, then evolves into increasingly public communications. The guidance is smart and it makes sense because it protects the interests of all parties involved, even the offender’s, up to a point. But once the offender shows signs that he or she is unwilling to acknowledge their behavior, protecting their interests is traded for protecting the interests of the person offended, and then the church’s interests overall. In terms of solving often messy and perspective-laden personal conflicts, Jesus’s guidance is practical and sound.
One of the most memorable components of Jesus’s guidance is the number of times we are to forgive a sinning brother or sister: up to seventy times seven. Does this mean that once I forgive someone 490 times I can stop and write them off? No, Jesus did not mean that. Instead, he means that I should forgive someone as many times as needed, as many times as they seek forgiveness. After all, God does this for us.
In the second section of our study in verses 21-35, we get another parable from Jesus. This parable is memorable because it can provoke a reaction.
In this parable, money is equated to offenses. God is the master and we are the slave that owes the master money. The money is simply a vehicle to engage or attention as it relates to the sins we commit against God’s commandments. The servant begging his master to forgive his mountainous debt is the same as us asking God to forgive us of our long list of sins.
It is truly a wonderful and joyous thing that God can and does forgive us of our sins. The main point of this parable, however, is what we are going to do with this forgiveness? Will I accept it and continue in the ways that led me to sin? Or will I accept it and incorporate the spirit of forgiveness into my life? The servant in the parable did not keep the spirit of forgiveness after he was forgiven. Reading the story, the servant comes across as a sort of ungrateful and wicked villain. Jesus tells the parable in such a way that it is easy for us to see and judge the servant’s behavior: How could the servant be so bold as to be forgiven so much and then turn around and show no mercy to another that owes him?
It makes us look at our lives and the people we have forgiven or have not forgiven. If we are saved by God through Jesus Christ, then we are the servant, having been forgiven the great spiritual debt of our many sins. How then, would we appear to God if we were to not forgive someone of something they did to us? The sin that this parable is warning against is one of not having that same great spirit of forgiveness that we receive from God. It is almost hypocritical of me to receive and experience God’s forgiveness while exercising a lack of forgiveness of someone seeking it in my life; knowing I have been forgiven of so much and the good, deep feelings of gratitude and happiness it brings ought to motivate me to forgive the people in my life that have treated me poorly.
Do you have anyone in your life that you need to forgive? Maybe they have asked for your forgiveness and you have held it back from them because you feel justified, because their offense was very great. The point of tonight’s lesson and the parable is to compare our forgiving spirit with God’s and to follow the example He sets when He forgives us of a lifetime of sin. Also remember what happened to the servant when the master found out that he was not being forgiving despite all of the forgiveness he received: his forgiveness was revoked and he was handed over to torturers until he paid all that he owed. It is a depressing picture and drives the point of Jesus’s parable home in a way that is not easy to forget.
Since we have been forgiven, we must also forgive.