Summary: There is great power in forgiveness both for the one who is forgiven and also for the one who forgives
Matthew 18: 15-35 “The Power of Forgiveness”
Everyone has someone in their lives whom they have not forgiven. It could be someone in the distant past—a boyfriend or girlfriend who jilted us in high school. Someone who offended us unintentionally might be unforgiven. We may not have forgiven someone who hurt us a great deal out of spite or anger. Sometimes the person we can’t forgive is ourselves.
The text today of Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness applies to each and every one of us.
(Verse 21) Matthew is directing this story at some of the challenges that faced the early church—the community of believers. The church had not come into being during Jesus’ ministry. The word, “church” only came to be used for the gatherings of Jesus’ followers several decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Peter’s question is sincere. He wants to know what the required limit to forgiveness is. What do you do with the person who hurts you over and over again but always says he or she is sorry? What do you do with the person who refuses to apologize?
(Verse 22) Jesus answers that there is no limit to forgiveness. A person doesn’t stop forgiving, and the forgiveness that he or she offers is unconditional and does not require the other person to ask for forgiveness. To say the least such a teaching is shocking. Readers of this conversation between Jesus and Peter immediately ask, “Why?” Jesus’ teaching is also challenging. We find ourselves asking, “How?” Jesus provides Peter and the readers of Matthew’s gospel with a motivation for forgiveness.
YOU HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN
(Verse 23) Jesus tells an outlandish story to illustrate his teaching on forgiveness and to motivate Peter and Jesus’ followers to forgive. There was a servant who owed his master 10,000 talents. A talent was about fifteen years worth of wages. Obviously the servant couldn’t pay it back. He said that he would, but it would have taken him 150,000 years to do so. After pleading with his master, the servant’s master had pity on him and forgave him (released) from his debt.
(Verse 28) In response to his being set free from his debt the servant goes and demands his debtors to pay up. He goes after them for a couple hundred bucks and he throws them into prison if they can’t pay. The contrast in actions is both ridiculous and shocking. Forgiven a gazillion dollars the servant can’t cut some else eighty dollars of slack.
We are a people who have been forgiven and reconciled. It is the realization and the remembrance of this truth that motivates us and enables us to forgive. Some Christians meditate on the cross and the extent that God would go to express God’s love and forgiveness. Other Christians ponder their baptism and being ushered into God’s family because of God’s steadfast love for them. It is not necessarily the amount or depth of our forgiveness that motivates us, but rather the expanse of God’s love.
Jesus instructs Peter and the readers of this parable that there are to be no limitations on the extent of their forgiveness. Jesus also reveals to his followers why they should forgive—because they have been forgiven unconditionally. And the implied command in Jesus’ teaching is, “Share God’s love with others and forgive them.
Jesus is not telling his followers to forgive and forget. He’s not demanding that his followers return to the same level of friendship and trust that they once had with the person or people whom they forgive. Forgiveness is designed to open up a future that the past has closed off.
Our forgiveness of another is not dependent upon the apology of the other person. We forgive because we have been forgiven. Forgiveness may not be a one-time act. We may need to forgive a person over and over again because we keep rescinding our forgiveness.
The lack of forgiveness breeds hate and hate can never reflect God’s glory or accomplish God’s will. Forgiveness is founded on love and spawns love. Forgiveness enables healing to take place in relationships.
In a broken and hurting world, forgiveness is the cup of cold water to parched lips, or the salve on burned skin. Nothing can demonstrate the depth of love as much as forgiveness can.