Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18.21)
There is perhaps nothing more trying in this life than people. Devices are predictable, dogs are loyal, but people often fail our expectations. People know how to hit us where it counts. Once we’ve experienced that pain we don’t want to let it go. Somehow we think it gives us power never to be hurt again. Our resentment is like a claim we hold onto, convincing us that we are right and they are wrong.
Earlier, Jesus spoke on what to do when your brother offends you. No doubt Peter was still thinking about this, remembering people who had offended him whom he had struggled to forgive. The rabbis of the day taught that it was sufficient to forgive a person three times for an offense. But Peter knew that there was something different about Jesus. He was always spending Himself for others. And He was kind even to those who opposed Him. Peter felt that Jesus would require more forgiveness than the rabbis…but how much more? So Peter offered what he thought would be an impressive answer: “Seven times?” Nothing could have prepared Peter for Jesus’ response:
“I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18.22)
I can only imagine what Peter was thinking: 490 times? You must be kidding! No one can do that!
Jesus went on to tell the story of a wealthy king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. One was brought to him who owed millions of dollars. Since he was unable to pay the king ordered that everything he owned be sold and he, his wife, and their children be sold as slaves. The servant fell down before him and said, “Master, be patient with me and I will pay back everything I owe.” The king was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him all his debt.
But that servant found one of his fellow servants who owed him a few thousand dollars. He took him by the throat and said, “Pay me what you owe!” So the fellow servant fell down at his feet and said, “Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything.” But he would not, and instead threw him in prison until he should pay everything that he owed.
Now at this point we cannot help but see the similarity of the situations: both servants were in debt beyond would they could pay and both pled for patience. But there was a great difference in the treatment they received. The first received incredible forgiveness and was released; the second was not pardoned and thrown in prison. What makes this story so poignant is that the one who received the most mercy was the least merciful.
When the king was told what had happened, he called for the first servant. “You wicked servant,” he said. “I forgave you an enormous debt. Shouldn’t you have had compassion on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you?” And the king delivered him to the torturers until he should pay back all that he owed.
Jesus ended the story with these words: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Our problem is that we see how others have wronged and hurt us, but we don’t consider how we have wronged and hurt God. We are quick to receive God’s forgiveness for ourselves but slow to forgive others. When we should be merciful because of the mercy we’ve been shown, often we are the first to point out how others have wronged us. How we all need God’s help!
Forgiveness 490 is coming to the realization that once I confess my sins before God, He keeps no record of them. He is able to forgive me an unlimited number of times because each time He chooses to forgive and forget. Admittedly, to forgive and forget in this way is difficult for us. But the same Love that has pardoned us is available to help us forgive from the heart. Will you ask Him for that Love for those who have offended you?