Greetings in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21)
Jesus’ disciples traveled town to town with Jesus, and witnessed God’s power and authority with Jesus. Jesus healed the sick, and raised the dead. They all marveled at what Jesus did. Although they were so close to Jesus, they could not understand why Jesus came to earth, and what He was about to do. Suddenly, there was a dispute among themselves. They were still of flesh, not of the Spirit. They could not settle down among themselves. They came to Jesus, and asked “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus did not answer, and then calmly looked at them. Jesus called a little child to Him, and put the child among them. Then He said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 18: 3)
The disciples were more confused than before asking to Jesus. Their face was almost empty. It was so obvious they had no understanding at all. Of course, Jesus knew their confusion. Jesus added one more parable about the lost sheep to show God’s love on one lost sheep. Then Jesus talked about forgiveness and repentance among themselves. Peter who always wanted to be the first, asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” (Matthew 18:21b)
Before looking closely about Peter and his question, let’s think about ourselves. Was it easy to forgive others? Especially, when a person seriously harms on us and damage our life, comes back later, and asks for our forgiveness. Let say we forgive the person with a compassionate heart. Soon the same person does even more serious evil to us than before, and the person comes to us to ask for forgiveness again. What would be our reaction in our heart? Is it easy to forgive this person again? Perhaps once or twice we might be able to offer our forgiveness, but how about the third time? How about the fourth time? Peter’s question about forgiving “seven” times. It is truly beyond the tolerance level of most of us. Forgiving seven times is practically speaking impossible for most of people.
Here is the famous answer of Jesus. “No, not seven times, but seventy times seven!” (Matthew 18:21) At the time of Jesus, number seven had a special meaning because it was treated a perfect number. Thus, doing seven times means what a person maximum can do. For example, the Israelites circled the fortified city, Jericho, seven days, and on the seventh day, they circled seven times before the wall of Jericho was collapsed. This background explains what Peter expected from his answer. He wanted hear Jesus’ approval when he said forgiving seven times. However, the Jesus’ response was totally unexpected — forgiving seventy times seven. It is literally 490 times. Forgiving others 490 times. I wonder there was anyone in our entire human history who did literally forgive others 490 times.
Peter, and other disciples, upon hearing this answer of Jesus, must have had been shocked. Jesus then continued with another parable:
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed himten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.
So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’
So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.
When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.
So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:23-34)
This was the parable for Jesus to teach what the true forgiveness is. That is what we have received from God. In the parable, one servant owed ten thousand talents. When he was asked to pay back, he bagged. The gracious master forgave him. On the other hand, the same servant did not forgive one who owed one hundred denarii. How much money was one hundred denarii? One Denarius was roughly one day’s wage, which is about 4 g of silver. Thus, one hundred denarii meant 100 days of wage, which was not a small amount of money. Owing 100 denarii was a rather serious sum of money, which could not be simply ignored.
How about ten thousand talents? One talent was equivalent to 6,000 denarii, and was about 20-40 Kg of gold. Typically, 33 Kg (75 lb) of gold was used as one talent. Currently, one gram of gold is about $40. Then one talent of gold would be about $1.3 million. Therefore, 10,000 talents meant $13 billion. This was outrageously big money. If this sum of money was translated to wages, it would be 200,000 years of wage. In other words, one had to work 200,000 years to pay the ten thousand talent debt. (The person would be still working to pay the debt since the time of Jesus, about 2,000 years ago. The person had to work 100 times of the work he worked so far.) Perhaps, it could be almost equivalent to the earning of the entire nation at that time. In short, it is simply impossible for the servant to pay back.
Our debt to God is even greater than the ten thousand talent of debt. Why? We are sinful and always sinning. Sinning seems trivial to us because all of us do sin, but the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23a) Sometimes we feel we could avoid or ignore this truth due to the prevailing nature of sins among all human beings. No, definitely not. There is no way to avoid the consequence of our sins. That is, there Is no way not to sin and to get away from the consequence of the sins: death. This is the dilemma that the entire human race has been struggling. Many tried to overcome this by doing good. Unfortunately, all attempts have been proven to be futile.
There is only one way to overcome this vicious dilemma: Jesus Christ. Jesus said, I am the way and the truth and the life. Not one can come to the Father except through me. (John 14:6) Jesus Christ is the only way. Amazingly, it is also God’s gift freely given to those who believe and receive this precious gift of Jesus Christ. “but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
Praise God, who has given us this free gift of salvation and eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord! We, who have received this amazing gift of life, will not put to death from our sins, and we, thus, have to forgive others from the deepest part of our hearts with our thanksgiving to God because our biggest debt has been forgiven by God, i.e., death – wages of sins. Yes, our forgiveness to others seems substantial in the earthly standard. However, when our forgiveness is compared with what God has done to us, our forgiveness to others is reduced to nothing.
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:22)