Summary: Taking a detailed look at forgiveness.

Matthew 18:21-35

February 7, 2010


I like watching Law and Order: Criminal Intent. Actually, I like it and I really don’t like it. Because just as I think I have it figured out, just as I solve the crime, one of the detectives asks a new question, the case shifts and the unexpected seems to happen.

Well, in this scripture I just read, Jesus tells us a story, and we need to remember Jesus is the master story-teller. He knows how to draw us into the story, then just when we think we know what’s going to happen, He switches everything. He turns everything upside down. That’s what happens in this story as He tells us more about what it means to forgive another person; and incidently, what it means not to forgive another person.

The basis of the story is this . . . and we talked about Peter’s question last week, as we began to look at forgiveness. I think Peter was really trying to look good to Jesus. He asked, ‘how many times do I need to forgive someone, up to 7 times?’ According to Jewish rabbinic law you had to forgive someone 3 times, on the 4th offense you didn’t have to forgive that person. Peter looked at the number 3, added 4 and patted himself on the back . . . I’ll forgive up to 7 times.

Jesus’ answer floored Peter and in many respects it floors us to. Jesus gives an answer we don’t always want to hear. He tells Peter your forgiveness should be continual. We should lose track of the number of times someone has sinned against us and how many times we’ve forgiven them.

Now let me stop for a minute and tell you that if someone is continually hurting you, then you need to remove yourself from that relationship. Don’t always expect the offender to leave you, you may need to leave them. For example, a friend continually lies to you, then they ask for your forgiveness. The pattern is endlessly repeated. Do you need to be constantly abused by that person? No. You don’t have to be in a relationship with that person.

If someone has physically, sexually or emotionally abused you, even though they have asked for your forgiveness, you need to forgive them, but you don’t have to be in relationship with them. It’s called having boundaries. We must have them, some people don’t have clear boundaries, for others, we know rather quickly where we stand.

With that said, Jesus’ point still stands. We must have the willingness to forgive others. And forgiveness is a process. Jesus gives us an example that’s really overwhelming. He tells us about a man, let’s call him Frank. Frank owed the king 10,000 talents. How much is a talent? Well, 1 talent = 15 years salary. So, this poor schlepp owed the king 150,000 years worth of salary. If you figure the guy made $25,000 per year, then he owed the king $3.75 billion. You know, there was no way he could ever repay the king. Not in this lifetime, nor in the next 20 lifetimes.

So the king is going to throw Frank and his family in jail. They’ll work for the government to pay back as much of the money as they can, which will be the rest of their lives.

So, Frank pleads his case before the king and tells him,“be patient with me, I’ll pay back everything.” I love it. Be patient, I’ll pay back the money? It’s not like he borrowed a few hundred dollars. We’re talking billions!! The king wasn’t stupid. He knows there’s no way Frank can repay the money, but what does the king do? He looks at this poor schlepp and has pity upon Frank, and in an amazing act of mercy, he says, ‘you know what? I’ll not only be patient, but I’ll let you off the hook entirely . . . Frank, your debt is forgiven.’ Frank is overwhelmed at the generosity of the king. He is thrilled and runs off to tell his wife and family that his life, and their lives have been spared.

So, Frank is on his way home, basking in joy at his freedom, and he sees another poor schlepp, let’s call him Hank, who owes Frank 100 denarii. 1 denarii = 1 days wages. So, Hank owed Frank 100 days wages. Assuming that same $25,000 annual salary, Hank owes Frank $10,000. Now, that’s not a small sum of money, but it definitely is not $3.75 billion. Catch the absurdity of all this. Divide $10k by 3.75 billion and you realize Hank owes Frank .00026%.

But when Hank pleads for time and mercy, he still gets thrown in jail.

When Frank’s friends see what happened, they become indignant and report this to the king. Now if you were the king how would you feel?

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