Summary: Once upon a time a great king was ruling over his kingdom. In that kingdom, there was a high ranking government official who owed the king a lot of money—10,000 talents to be exact. Today’s equivalent would be 9 million ounces of precious metal—let’s sa
September 4, 2005
FORGIVEN TO FORGIVE
Once upon a time a great king was ruling over his kingdom. In that kingdom, there was a high ranking government official who owed the king a lot of money—10,000 talents to be exact. Today’s equivalent would be 9 million ounces of precious metal—let’s say gold. Earlier this week gold was trading at $431/ounce. Nine million ounces times $431/ounce equals 3,879,000,000 dollars. One morning the king woke up and decided it was time to collect his $3,879,000,000. He asked the official who owed the money to drop by with a check.
The high ranking government official was in a panic. He had squandered the king’s money. He couldn’t pay—not today, not in a million years. The king was furious—and rightly so. $3,879,000,000 is a lot of money even for a king. He ordered the bureaucrat, his family, and everything they owned to be sold to the highest bidder and applied to the debt.
Hearing the king’s command, the government official fell on his face and begged the king for mercy. “Be patient with me,” he pleaded. “I promise! I’ll pay back everything.” That was, of course, a lie. He would never be able to repay the debt. Even so, the sight of the whimpering man moved the king to pity. In spite of his lose, the king forgave the debt and let the man go free.
Relieved, the official left the king’s presence and went back to his office. Immediately, he confronted a co-worker who owed him 5000 bucks. Now, $5000 is no insignificant sum. But it doesn’t begin to compare with the $3,879,000,000 the official owed the king. Even so, the official grabbed his co-worker by the throat and screamed, “Pay up now!”
The man fell to his knees and cried, “I can’t pay you now. If you’ll just be patient with me, I promise, you’ll get your money.”
But the official refused to show mercy. He had his co-worker tossed into prison until the debt could be paid.
Office gossip being what it is, word soon got back to the king. He was livid! He called the official in and reminded him, “I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your co-worker just as I had on you?” In anger, the king turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed (which of course will never be able to do).
This is the story Jesus tells in Matthew 18:23-35. Why does He tell it? Jesus tells the story to answer a question Peter asks in Matthew 18:21. Look with me at Matthew 18:21 and hear the question Peter asks. Maybe it’s a question you’ve asked too. In Matthew 18:21 we are told, Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Now if you’re a regular Bible reader I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Peter doesn’t get it.” Okay, Peter doesn’t get it. But before we judge too harshly, we probably ought to admit—Peter probably gets it more than most of us. When’s the last time you honestly forgave somebody seven times in a row for the same sin? Let’s say your boss calls you fat and stupid at a company meeting. Afterwards, he comes to you and says, “I was out of line. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” “Sure,” you say. But at the next company meeting he screams out that you’re the dumbest employee he ever hired. At seven company meetings he berates and embarrasses you. And seven times he comes as seeks your mercy. At that point, exactly how forgiving do you feel? How many times do you forgive your spouse for habitually lying to you? How many times to forgive an adult child who steals money from your purse? How many times in a row have your forgiven your abuser?
Do you see what I mean? Forgiving a brother seven times for the same sin is no minor feat! In fact, according to the rabbis of Peter’s day, a good Jew was only required to forgive three times. So, before we go any further, let’s give Peter some credit. He’s setting an extremely high standard. In fact, it’s a standard we all would struggle to keep. That’s why Jesus’ answer ought to bring us up short. Jesus responds, “Not good enough Peter. Matthew 18:22 tells us, Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Now to fully understand what Jesus means we need to take a look at Genesis 4:23-24. Here we meet a wicked, spiteful man named Lamech. In Genesis 4:23, Lamech admits to violence and murder. Even so, in Genesis 4:24, he calls for severe retaliation against anyone who would dare commit violence against him. Genesis 4:23-24 reports, Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.