Friday, January 24, 2014

SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN (Matthew Chapter 18)

The slaves were aghast at what they had witnessed. Their fellow slave had amassed a huge debt of 10,000 talents towards their master (Matthew 18:24). A debt so large that it would have taken 150,000 years of the wages of a laborer to pay off.  The master, wishing to settle accounts, brought the slave to himself and demanded payment. Since he had no means to repay, the master commanded that he be sold, along with his wife and children and belongings so that payment could be made (18:25).

Helpless to rectify his situation the slave fell to the ground and begged that the master show patience towards him. In an incredible and unprecedented display of compassion the master forgave him the debt (18:27). The other slaves were astounded. What kind of master would show such compassion?

How did the slave respond?  He went and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a debt (18:28). The debt was small by comparison--a mere one hundred denarii.  An amount that could be earned in 100 days or so. The forgiven slave seized the man and began to choke him. He too begged for patience. But the forgiven slave showed no compassion and instead threw the slave into prison (18:30). The other slaves were “deeply grieved” and reported to the master what had happened (18:31).  Oh the incongruity of it all! An unpayable debt forgiven by a compassionate master. Forgiveness of the far smaller debt withheld by a fellow servant. And so it goes in this world.

The rabbis had taught that a repeated offense might be forgiven three times, but on the fourth there could be no forgiveness. Peter questioned Jesus regarding the extent to which forgiveness should be demonstrated, asking, “Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21). Jesus’ response was not up to seven times, “but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22). Jesus used this parable to illustrate the truth about forgiveness.

It is altogether human to seek revenge. The Devil cheers us on in our anger, bitterness, and vengeance. He would have us to believe that some sort of victory is won in retaliating. The flesh is eager to participate. A deadly and turbulent concoction is created when vengeful thoughts are enjoined to the dreaded injustice.  The wicked brew, having been simmered on the back burner of the mind, is then gladly guzzled down only to be vomited up, emitting a foul and noxious odor.  Revenge yields no heavenly triumph.  Temporary gratification is a high price to day in view of the emotional, physical, and spiritual damage done.

Forgiveness is a God thing. Were there no God there would be no such things as forgiveness. To forgive someone is to release them from liability to suffer punishment or penalty. It is to make a decision about an injustice suffered: to not think about it, to not bring it up, to not talk about it, and to not allow it to stand between us and the other person. That kind of response is not always easy. It is by God’s grace and by the Spirit alone that we can lovingly respond to others in this manner (Cf. Galatians 5:20 vs. 5:22; 1 Corinthians 13:5).

Seventy times seven. God has forgiven much. It is His nature to forgive (Cf. Psalm 103:8-11). My certificate of debt was of infinite measure (Colossians 2:14). He “cancelled it out” by nailing it to the cross. He who knew no sin was made to be sin that I might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

It is reasonable to expect that those who have been much forgiven should readily forgive. That’s the point of the parable. Anything less is unreasonable and deeply distressing. Those who have been much forgiven, “as God in Christ has forgiven” (Ephesians 4:32b), should always be “forgiving each other” (Ephesians 4:32a). The fount of forgiveness is the cross.  When we forgive we bear witness to its power to save and transform!

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