|Matthew 18:15-35||Read Online|
Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how many times could my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”
“I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus said to him, “but 70 times seven.”
Around my house and neighborhood right now, there are signs of spring cleaning. As the weather warms up, we’re seeing neighbors we haven’t seen in months—as we all tend to hibernate during the colder months.
Up go the garage doors. Out come the weed-eaters and lawnmowers. Yard sales pop up each weekend as neighbors clean out their closets and get rid of things they no longer need (or never needed). And I’m a list-maker, so I have all kinds of lists reminding us what needs to be done each weekend.
My grandmother resisted spring cleaning. She was a bonafide pack rat. Growing up during The Depression, she didn’t have much, so she wanted to save everything. Every year at Christmas, we’d all hear, “Don’t throw away those bows or boxes or wrapping paper or ribbons…”
In the summers, at the reunions, we’d hear, “Don’t throw away those plastic cups or utensils.” She had stacks of newspapers and magazines in her living room.
One time, her daughter and daughter-in-law thought they were being smart by taking the bags of garbage to the street. My 80-year-old grandmother waited until they left and then promptly went out and dragged the bags back up to her house! In her mind, she was still in the prison of the Great Depression.
There are all types of prisons, but the worst is the prison of your mind and heart. If we don’t take time to spring clean them as well, we end up piling things up. The clutter is hazardous to our health and well-being.
Jesus knew the human brain. He understood what types of darkness could take root in the mind and the heart if allowed. He tried to help us understand that forgiveness isn’t only for the offender but also for the offended.
I’d bet Peter was a list-maker as well. He wanted to get things right—to make sure he understood exactly what was expected of him. Today’s passage has him asking exactly how many times we must forgive someone.
Some Jewish traditions taught that three times was enough, so when Peter guessed seven, he probably thought he was going to get an “atta-boy” from Jesus. But Jesus surprised him (and probably the others there) when He said, “I tell you, not as many as seven, but 70 times seven.”
I can see the Disciples’ faces as their brains were trying to do the multiplication. Before they could do it, Jesus continued with a story. (He’s so smart to know our human minds need stories we can relate to our lives!)
In the story, Jesus tells us of a man who owed MUCH money. How much money? More than a day’s wages. More than a year’s wages. Some estimate the stated 10,000 talents to be as much as ten million dollars!
We’re talking about a man who was in way over his head—who was just caught with his hand in the cookie jar. There was simply no way this man could pay back his debt during his lifetime.
Therefore, the king mandated that all of the man’s possessions be sold—including his wife and children! The man did as any of us would have—he fell to his knees and begged the king to give him another chance to pay the money back. The king has compassion in his heart and shows mercy—undeserved forgiveness—to the man.
When released from the debt, we should’ve seen this man jumping for joy, praising the king, dancing a jig! But we don’t see any of that. We don’t even hear him say a simple, humble, “Thank you.” That could’ve been the end of the story, but Jesus continued.
This man who was just forgiven millions of dollars of debt left the building to track down someone else who owed him money. The real kicker is the guy only owed him a little money comparatively. When begged for more time, was mercy offered as mercy was shown? No way! Rage and violent actions were shown.
Here I just scratch my head and wonder what was going through this man’s brain. The king obviously thought that too, as he asked in verse 33, “Shouldn’t you also have had mercy…?”
Jesus wanted to show us both sides of the coin. We can choose to forgive or choose to harbor anger and display revenge. It’s our choice. We can choose to hold ourselves in a prison of anger, hatred, and rage or we can choose to forgive—as many times as necessary—and experience the peace of God.
Forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. It doesn’t mean you deny the other person’s responsibility for hurting you, and it doesn’t minimize or justify the wrong. You can forgive the person without excusing the act.
Lewis B Smedes wrote in his book Forgive and Forget, “When you release the wrongdoer from the wrong, you cut a malignant tumor out of your inner life. You set a prisoner free but discover that the real prisoner was yourself.”
If you think about it, we’re in “way over our heads” as well. We can never pay Jesus back for the debt He paid for us. We beg Him for mercy and He graciously extends it.
What do we then do with this? Do we praise Him and dance a jig because we’re forgiven? Do we offer mercy as mercy was offered to us? Or do we lock ourselves in our own prisons—surrounding ourselves with the anger, hatred, and vengeful thoughts of the one who “owes” us?
Will it be easy? Was the path Jesus took easy? No. It may take one time, five times, or a million times. But how many times does Jesus offer us mercy?
Spring-cleaning is never much fun and it’s definitely not easy. But when it’s done, I have peace of mind and can even breathe better. If a simple cleaning of the house can do that, imagine what a cleaning of the heart and mind can do. Grab your Bible and your prayer journal and begin your spring-cleaning today.
- Have you started your spring-cleaning yet? Do you have anything in your heart that needs to be swept away? Add it to your list.
- There have been debates for centuries over what Jesus meant when He said to forgive “70 times seven.” What are your thoughts?
- Forgiveness is a key element in the Bible. It’s repeated over and over throughout the Scriptures. Take time today to read other key verses on forgiveness such as Matthew 6:9-15; Mark 11:25; Luke 17:3-5; and Ephesians 4:31-32.
- True forgiveness isn’t easy. You must lay it at the foot of Jesus and not reclaim it. How do you think the story would have influenced us if the original debtor had also shown mercy to his debtor? Why do you think Jesus chose to end the story in the manner that He did?
- God shows us mercy over and over—even when we seem to return to Him with the same sin multiple times. Is there someone who has hurt you in the same way several times and has asked you for forgiveness yet again? Are you practicing “70 times seven”? Are you leaning on God to help you? Are you praying for the offender? Yes, it’s hard, but Jesus requires of us what is offered to us.