To read the texts click on the texts: Dn3:25, 34-43;Mt 18:21-35
The text of today is the conclusion to Matthew’s “Community Discourse” (18:1-35). It begins with a question from Peter about the number of times one is expected to forgive. While Peter proposes seven times, Jesus’ response far exceeds that proposal. The number seventy-seven can be understood in this way or even as four hundred ninety (seventy times seven). The point is not so much about numbers but about forgiveness from the heart. If one has to count the number of times one is forgiving, it means that one is not really forgiving at all. The story that follows in 18:23-35 about the king who forgave his servant a debt of ten thousand talents (a talent was more than fifteen years wages of a labourer). The combination of “ten thousand” and “talents” is the greatest possible figure and indicates the unimaginable sum of money owed. An indication of how large this sum was can be seen when compared with the annual tax income for all of the territories of Herod the Great which was 900 talents per year. The point is that the debt is unpayable. The servant in his desperation asks for time to pay back the debt. Though the king knows that no matter how much time is given to the servant he will never be able to pay back what he owes, forgives him all the debt in his magnanimity and generosity. The debt of the fellow servant to him pales in comparison with his own debt to the king. Yet, if given time there was a clear possibility that the money could be repaid, because though by itself it was a large sum, it would not be impossible to repay. The servant who had been forgiven by the king will have none of it. He refuses to listen and be convinced. When the matter is reported to the king be the fellow servants, the king takes back his forgiveness because the one who was forgiven could not forgive in turn. This indicates that he had closed himself to the forgiveness of the king and not received it completely. The conclusion is frightening because it will be impossible for the first servant to repay the debt. This means that he will be tortured for eternity.
How easy it is to say “I am sorry” when we know we are in the wrong or have done something that deserves punishment. We expect to be forgiven by others when we do them harm after we have said sorry, and sometimes if they do not forgive us, we get upset with them even more. We need to apply the same yardstick to ourselves when others ask for forgiveness from us.
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