24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 17, 2017)
The old law required that a person forgive three wrongdoings. When Peter asks Jesus about forgiving the wrongs done to us, he suggests forgiving seven times -twice the required number plus one for good measure - a very generous measure he must have thought. Jesus’ response must have surprised him - “Seventy times seven times.”
Jesus was telling him that there is to be no limit to a disciple’s forgiveness.
Jesus goes on to explain “why” in a parable about God’s reign. The king generously writes off the debt of the official who owed the king so much that he could never pay it all back. When the official leaves the king’s presence he immediately begins to throttle a fellow servant who owes him a small debt. He doesn’t even listen when the slave pleads with him for patience.
The obvious question arises: has this man forgotten so soon how forgiving his master had been? The anger he shows doesn’t seem like the appropriate response to the forgiveness he has received. Where is his anger coming from?
One possibility is that the man doesn’t know how to receive forgiveness. He may feel that the master now has a hold on him and he has no way to get out of that hold. Perhaps if he repaid some of his debt, his master would have less of a hold. The one hundred denarii of his fellow slave would be a start.
For this man, forgiveness has not been a freeing experience; rather it has bound him even tighter to his master in his thinking. He has misunderstood his master’s act of forgiveness.
Jesus immediately applies the parable to his disciples, to us. His Father has forgiven us any debt we have incurred with Him by our wrongdoing, even the most evil of our sins.
The Father’s forgiveness sets us free; and we don’t owe the Father anything. But His Father hopes that this freedom will give us the example we need in forgiving one another. God holds nothing over us, so we are not to hold anything over each other. This is to be true not only in giving forgiveness, but in receiving it as well. True forgiveness means that no payback is ever necessary. The result of forgiveness is a newfound freedom to choose to love again.
Isn’t that good news? And we are to share that good news with each other every day - by forgiving freely.