Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Forgiveness (Tuesday, 3rd Week of Lent, Matt. 18:21-35)

Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive him?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times
but seventy-seven times.
That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who decided to settle accounts with his servants.
When he began the accounting,
a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back,
his master ordered him to be sold,
along with his wife, his children, and all his property,
in payment of the debt.
At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’
Moved with compassion the master of that servant
let him go and forgave him the loan.
When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a much smaller amount.
He seized him and started to choke him, demanding,
‘Pay back what you owe.’
Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
But he refused.
Instead, he had him put in prison
until he paid back the debt.
Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened,
they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master
and reported the whole affair.
His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?’
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”


* * * * * * * *

We owe a very great deal to the fact that Peter had a quick tongue. Again and again he rushed into speech in such a way that his impetuosity drew from Jesus teaching which is immortal. On this occasion Peter thought that he was being very generous. He asked Jesus how often he ought to forgive his brother, and then answered his own question by suggesting that he should forgive seven times.

Peter was not without warrant for this suggestion. It was Rabbinic teaching that a man must forgive his brother three times. The Biblical proof that this was correct was taken from the opening chapters of Amos where it was deduced that God's forgiveness extends to three offences and that he visits the sinner with punishment at the fourth. Surely, a man couldn’t be more gracious than God. Hence, human forgiveness was thought to be limited to three times.

Peter therefore must’ve been thinking that he was going very far, for he takes the Rabbinic three times, multiplies it by two for good measure adds one, and suggests, with eager self-satisfaction, that it will be enough if he forgives seven times. Peter was probably expecting to be praised. Instead Jesus tells him that one must forgive seventy times seven times, in effect saying that there can simply be no reckonable limit to forgiveness.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)