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The cheapest and most vicious way to attack someone is through the words we use. When the Psalms speak of evil, the most frequent evil they describe is speech that is used to injure another person.
So-called “civilized” nations, like the one we live in, use words as their primary means of hurting other people. How does Jesus teach us to respond to all manner of attacks, including the use of speech to harm us?
Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18.21).
Before we turn to Jesus’ answer, let’s think about how we typically respond to offenses and injuries. Suppose we have been hurt by words spoken by a friend, spouse or fellow follower of Jesus. It is almost like we have an app on our phone or actually more likely in our mind that records the offense in living color.
We hold tightly to the offense or injury and replay the video over and over. Our rights have been violated and we feel justified in remaining angry, upset, or some other emotion.
When Peter asked Jesus about forgiveness, he described multiple occasions of injury. What was Jesus’ response? He said, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18.22).
Before we attempt to understand Jesus’ logic, let’s be clear about what is forgiveness. Forgiveness involves absorbing the hurt of an offense. Forgiveness does not ignore the fact that a wrong has taken place, but neither does it re-create anger and play the video over and over again.
When we are injured by another person’s words or worse, we will necessarily lose trust in that person. Forgiveness releases the person from the burden of a negative response from us. However, it does not immediately restore trust or the warmth of a relationship.
I have said this about forgiveness, “I forgive the person, but I’m not going to give him my wallet or car keys to hold.” I think my statement reflects the nature of how an offenses break trust and injure relationships. Broken relationships need to be rebuilt after injurious words or actions, and we can not minimize the time and effort needed to accomplish this.
** The Logic of Forgiveness
Jesus used a parable to help Peter and people like us think more clearly about forgiveness. He said, “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made” (Matthew 18.23-25).
A talent is the largest Hebrew unit of weight or value. One talent of silver in today’s dollars would be over $6,000 and one talent of gold would be $385,500. When multiplied by 10,000 the amount owed is beyond comprehension. This is how God values the debt of sin that each person owes him.
Returning to the parable, Jesus said, “So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt” (Matthew 18.26-27).
There are some people who think they can pay their debt of sin with God through good works. It is about as possible for a person to earn a right relationship with God as it would have been for the man to pay back his loan.
There are 3,000 shekels in one talent. I was not able to determine the value of a shekel, but I expect a laborer have to work multiple lifetimes to repay 10,000 talents?
Suppose I never commit another sin. How many good deeds must I accomplish to overcome 71 years of sinful activity. Praise God that Jesus absorbed the offense and hurt of my sin on the cross and set me free through his forgiveness.
The slave clearly didn’t get it, because “as he went out, he came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt” (Matthew 18.28-30).
One of the reasons why Jesus used parables is that they sneak up on us. All us with one accord are thinking bad thoughts about the slave who refused to forgive his fellow slave a small debt.
However, we need to ask ourselves if there is any unforgiveness in our heart. Do we still cling to the “video” in our mind of how we were offended by someone’s words or actions? Are we unwilling to forgive that person? Do we think of ways that we can get even with person who injured us?
If so, we end up on the wrong side of this parable, don’t we? Yet, we are not alone in our condemnation of the slave.
Jesus said, “When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?'” (Matthew 18.31-33).
Jesus had a lot to say about mercy. He taught us to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6.12).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Matthew 5.7).
Again, he said, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice'” (Matthew 9.13).
If Jesus places such a high value on forgiveness and mercy, should not people who are trying to live a Jesus-kind-of-life do the same?
This parable was spoken to twelve men who had followed Jesus all over Galilee. They were on their way to Jerusalem and to the most difficult experience of their lives. Yet, to these people Jesus ended the parable with these words, “And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Matthew 18.34-35).
The High Cost of Forgiveness
Jesus takes forgiveness very seriously, as the ending of the parable highlights. He knows the power of forgiveness. More than likely, every reader of this article has been forgiven and transformed by the loving grace of Jesus.
To cancel out our debt of sin, Jesus had to suffer on the cross, uttering these words, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23.34).
Our unwillingness to forgive the injuries that have come our way disrespect the love, mercy and grace of Jesus that he has shown to us. Forgiveness is seldom easy, but Jesus is worthy of every effort we make in forgiving those who have injured us. For some, just asking Jesus to help you forgive is a good beginning. Please get started today.
Dear Jesus, thank you for what it cost you to forgive all of our sins. Please help us release everyone who has harmed and injured us through the act of forgiveness. For those who have been greatly harmed, please help them to begin the process.