Summary: A sermon about the necessity and importance of forgiveness.
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Have you ever given much thought to that line from the Lord’s Prayer? “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I think it’s fair to say that most of the time, we pray this prayer without thinking deeply about what we are saying. But today’s teaching from Jesus forces us to give serious thought to our practice of forgiveness towards others, especially as it relates to God’s forgiveness towards us.
The lesson begins with Peter’s question, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive as many as seven times?” Peter doesn’t literally mean saying, “I forgive you,” seven times over. Instead, at that time, seven was considered the number of perfection. So Peter is in essence asking, “If I forgive perfectly, that should about take care of it, right?” But Jesus response is not really affirmative. “Not just seven times,” Jesus says, “but…seventy-seven times.” In other words, your forgiveness must be better than perfect, it must be perfect perfection. And then Jesus goes on to illustrate just what forgiveness should look like through a parable, known as the “parable of the unforgiving servant.”
Now, this parable is told to a first century audience, familiar with the economy of that day and the value of talents and so forth. Because we don’t have a full knowledge of the value of money and various denominations of money in that time, it’s hard for us to understand the immensity of what Jesus is conveying here. So let me try and put this servant’s debt in perspective. In the first century Roman world, a talent was equal to about fifteen years’ pay for a laborer. Did you hear that? It took roughly fifteen years for an average laborer to earn just one talent! And now we have this king who has said the servant owes him 10,000 times that; 150,000 years worth of labor! As it turns out, it is highly likely that 10,000 talents was even more money than was in circulation in the entire Roman Empire in the first century! So clearly, this is an absurd amount of money the servant owed to the king. There really would have been no way the laborer could have run up such a debt with his master. Jesus is speaking in hyperbole here in order to convey unquestionably that the servant owed his master a lot. But the point is not the exact amount owed by the servant. Instead, the point Jesus wants to make in this parable is the immensity of the forgiveness offered by the king. Certainly, what the servant owed the master was great, but what the master forgave was even greater!
Which is why it’s so ironic that the servant immediately turns around and does just the opposite! As soon as the servant has left the king’s presence, he runs across a fellow servant who just happens to be in debt to him some 100 coins. Again, this is most likely not a precise amount. But to give you an idea, let’s call the first servant’s debt “the ocean,” and let’s call his fellow servant’s debt “a drop.” What this fellow servant owed was miniscule compared to the debt just forgiven by the king. Still, though, the unforgiving servant did not show the same generous forgiveness his master had shown him. In fact, he offered no forgiveness at all. That’s pretty unbelievable, isn’t it? Imagine how we would feel if we had been so generous with someone, and they turned right around and attempted to take something from someone else. We’d be pretty angry, wouldn’t we? And the king gets angry as well. When he gets word of his unforgiving servant, he calls him back and punishes him. Now, what we have to note here is that the servant is not being punished because of the debt he owes his master. Instead, he is being punished because he did not show the same generous forgiveness the master had offered to him.
Just think about that for a minute, friends. We mess up a lot in our lives. We sin against God and our neighbor. But if we go to God again and again seeking God’s forgiveness, then Christ tells us, the Father will generously bestow that forgiveness. But, if we cannot in turn offer the same generous forgiveness to those who have sinned against us…well, it’s only then that God’s forgiveness may not be so readily available. Do you see what I’m getting at? One message of this passage is that God does not punish us for the bad things we do; rather, God punishes us for the good things we do not do, our failure to be generous with others as God in Christ Jesus has been generous with us.