Running the Numbers on Forgiveness

Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made.

“So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.

“But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’

“So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’

“But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened.

“Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. ‘Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’” (Matthew 18:21-33)

Whenever someone bumped into him, a friend of mine would mutter as a joke, “that’s four hundred eight-nine.” Peter was looking for a number like that. Just how often did he have to forgive someone?
Jesus took Peter’s suggestion of seven times and multiplied it beyond reason. Jesus wasn’t suggesting that Peter keep careful records. Jesus meant that forgiveness was never-ending. But is that practical? If my spouse beats me today and begs forgiveness tomorrow, do I have to keep forgiving him? Do we give the convicted embezzler another job in the bank? Jesus told a parable to illustrate his point about the seventy times seven. In the parable, after forgiving the debt, did the servant’s master then lend him more money?

Jesus point about forgiveness was simple: since God has forgiven us, so why can’t we forgive each other? Forgiveness means that we don’t hold an offense against another person. But it doesn’t necessarily mean we give them opportunities to sin again.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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