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Sunday, September 11, 2005

Mt. 18:21-35: Forgiveness From The Heart

We can sympathize with Peter when he asks: "Lord, how many times should I forgive a brother who wrongs me?" And we find the answer to the question difficult to accept: "Don't count the times you forgive.*" And then, so as to quash any objections that may arise from his reply, the Lord immediately proposes a parable about a man who was freed from a large debt by his master, the king, but who would not do the same for a person who owed him a mere paltry sum. When the king heard what the man did, he had him imprisoned until he paid back all he owed to him. And the Lord concludes the parable with these ominous words: "My heavenly Father will treat you in exactly the same way unless each of you forgives his brother from the heart."

"To forgive from the heart." Seen within the context of Matthew 18:21-35, the phrase means both forgiving with compassion and forgetting the wrong done. The king had compassion on the man who owed him a large debt and therefore freed him from it. The word for compassion used here is the same word that the Gospels use for the compassion that Jesus feels for the crowds who come to him for healing. Splanchnizomai, is a strong emotion that is felt in the center of one's being. The king experienced it when the man in the parable pleaded for more time to pay what he owed. Knowing that the large amount cannot be paid in a lifetime, anyway**, the king wrote off the debt. But the man, having been freed from a debt he could not pay, would not write off the debt of one who can pay his in this lifetime. Thus, the sadness of those who witness the man who has been treated graciously deal with a fellow in a similar situation in a cruel manner. Thus, too, the harshness of the king when he hears about it.

When was the last time you forgave from the heart?

"Forgive us our sins as we forgave those who sin against us." This is the daily prayer of the Christian. In that short petition, we are asking the Heavenly Father to forgive us not out of his sheer mercy, but in the measure that we forgive others. It actually sounds as if we are saying: "Because I forgive others, forgive me too." I have written about the Jewish roots of this idea, so I won't repeat it here. But in the light of this petition, wouldn't it be quite presumptuous for me to ask God's forgiveness when I have excluded certain people from forgiveness.

There are people who think that forgiveness means that one stop from hating a person who given offense. They would accept an apology but would not forget the offense committed. The memory of the offense is allowed to remain at the back of one's head like a mine that one has buried in a field and forgotten there. Sooner or later, one will step on that mine and detonate it. The memory of an offense can be buried so deep that one would think it is no longer there. When it is aroused however (by a similar incident or by the same person) it can still cause quite a bit of turmoil. How many people are there who go through life seething with an anger whose cause they can no longer remember, or even recognize?

When was the last time you forgave from the heart?

Stop hating, ... forget the reason for the hatred. "Forgive and forget," they say. But this isn't forgiveness yet. Until one allows compassion to be a part of it, then one's act of forgiveness is incomplete. Compassion in the Gospels moves one to do something good for the other. Remember the parable of the Good Samaritan? It was compassion that differentiated the Samaritan from the priest and the Levite who also saw the suffering man by the roadside. It is compassion too that made the king in the parable write off the large debt owed to him thereby allowing his debtor a new lease on life, so to speak. Unless one's forgiveness actually moves one to also do something good for the person forgiven, then the forgiveness one offers is like a cold handshake -- it will not warm the hearts of those who receive it.

Seven times seventy-seven is five hundred and thirty-nine times. With the figure, it becomes highly impractical to remember how many times one forgives one particular person. What the Lord is saying is "as your brother does not count how many times he wrongs you, so too, do not count how many times you forgive him."

The "talanton" and the "denarii" that are contrasted in the parable as the respective amounts owed by the man to the king on the one hand, and that owed by a fellow servant represent huge disproportionate amounts. The Filipino version I am using actually translates those words in terms of PHP 10,000,000.00 as opposed to PHP 500.00.

Posted by bible student at 11:04 PM
Edited on: Tuesday, September 13, 2005 11:22 PM
Categories: Liturgy, New Testament