Bountiful Spirit - March 9, 2021
Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times.
“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. 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. But that same slave, as he went out, 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. 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?’ 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.”
Reflection by Mark Baldwin
You may have heard about “Irish Alzheimer’s”: You forget everything except the grudges.
There’s nothing funny about Alzheimer’s disease, of course. Yet that aphorism perfectly captures the challenge we all face in letting go of the urge to avenge old injuries to our feelings or reputations or pocketbooks. We live in a tit-for-tat world, with the drive to get even seemingly hardwired into our brains.
Matthew understood that the believers who constituted his community wouldn’t get along all the time and was concerned about the corrosive effects of misbehavior. Even the church isn’t immune to the challenges posed by human nature, after all.
Jesus’ answer to Peter makes clear the sharp difference between human nature and God’s nature. God, after all, doesn’t deal with us in tit-for-tat fashion. Instead, God’s forgiveness is limitless. That’s the standard for us, too, hard as it is.
That doesn’t mean sweeping sin under the rug. Offenses need to be confronted, but kindly. As commentator Douglas Hare wrote so eloquently: “Even when dealing with the stubbornly unrepentant, we must forswear vindictiveness and, by God’s grace, give evidence that we are ready to extend forgiveness because we ourselves have been humbled by God’s forgiving love.” Amen.