Grace and peace to you, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
In today’s Gospel, Peter asks Jesus a question about forgiveness: How often do I forgive a brother or sister – seven times? This raises a question for me. If you keep track of how many times you forgive someone, is that really forgiveness? The forgiveness we are called to give is the forgiveness that we were first given by God. When we refuse to forgive, we also refuse to let go of another’s sin.
Jesus’s answer to Peter’s question turns the idea of limited forgiveness on its head. Jesus says forgive seventy-seven times. Now I don’t think Jesus means that we should keep a little book with us, and write down every time we forgive. So in answer, Jesus says to Peter, “Let me tell you a story…” (Can’t you just hear Peter thinking, “Oh no – not another story - never get his stories!”)
The story Jesus tells has to do with great wealth and great forgiveness. The Bible uses the word “talents” for money, so it can be a little bit hard to grasp the amounts involved, but 10,000 talents is about fifteen years pay. That’s a lot of money. The huge size of the debt tells us two things about the servant: First, he’s not just an ordinary servant. He’s a trusted officer in the court of the king. And second, this man has lost a lot of money, and he is in really big trouble.
Imagine going to your boss and saying, “You know that $150,000 you entrusted me to invest for the company? Well, I lost it.” I don’t think any boss would care to hear that. This servant does not deserve mercy, but he begs for mercy anyway And makes an impossible promise that he will repay this debt. The king is so moved that he forgives the entire debt. Amazing.
After receiving this abundant mercy and forgiveness, the servant meets up with another member of the court, a fellow servant who owes him money. Again we have another unfamiliar word for money, but a denarius is about a day’s pay. This person owes the first servant about one hundred day’s pay – not a small sum, but something that is possible to repay.
So what happens when these men meet? Does the first servant show the same mercy and forgiveness that he received from the king? No. He grabs the man who owes him money by the throat, demands payment, and has him thrown into prison, until he can pay.
Now, what could Jesus possibly be trying to tell Peter with this story? What jumps out at me, is the large amount of the debt and the large amount of forgiveness the first servant receives - and the comparably tiny amount of the debt which he refuses to forgive his fellow servant.
Is it possible that our debt is as large as that of the first servant? If we look around ourselves on any given day, it is all too evident that we don’t love God with our whole hearts, and we don’t always love our neighbors as ourselves. Accepting responsibility for something we have done, or have not done, is very hard. It means admitting that we are not perfect, that we are not always in control. We do live in a sinful and broken world.
But accepting our sinfulness can be much harder. We must admit that we are truly sinners, and cannot repay the sins that we have committed. We don’t deserve God’s grace, but we ask for forgiveness anyway. And we are forgiven. Amazing. Just like the first servant, we have an unpayable debt, and we don’t deserve forgiveness. But God does forgive us, even while we are still sinners. God does love us, even when we make mistakes.
I know it’s hard to forgive someone when they have hurt us. And we must always remember that forgiveness does not mean allowing ourselves to be hurt again. When I think about forgiveness, it feels more like a dance or a journey, rather than something we do once and are done. Forgiveness. Especially when the person who hurt you is not repentant.
But forgiveness, even if the person we forgive does not ask to be forgiven, is the only way to find peace and get on with life. Jesus’s parable reminds us of the free gift of God’s grace and forgiveness given to all. Having been given this wonderful gift, we are called to forgive others.
I recently read a story about a man who struggled with forgiving his wife, who had divorced him. Eventually he realized that holding onto resentment was only making him feel worse. So when the time came to change his computer password at work, he changed it to: “Forgive her”. Every day, when he logged into his computer, he would type those words. Some days he didn’t feel forgiving. Other days, he did. But eventually he found peace with the changes that had happened in his life. And he was able to forgive… and begin again. When it was time to change his password again, he added one word to his password now it read, “I forgive her”.
The good news is, God loves us and will forgive us when we fail. And because of this grace, we are able to find forgiveness in our own lives as well. Amen.