21 March
Mt 18:21-35

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 should 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 should 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.’

“If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold” (Genesis 4:24).  Jesus turned this vicious saying right around, making it a measure of forgiveness rather than a measure of vengeance.  It is unclear whether the number is 77 or 70 x 7, but it hardly matters, since it is not about accounting.  Forgiveness is meant to be unlimited. 

The numbers are off the scale in the rest of the passage too.  Ten thousand talents would come to about 275,000 years' wages for an average worker.  Clearly, repayment is impossible.  The point being made is that we are in infinite debt to God and we can never clear that debt by ourselves.  We could imagine the older brother in Luke 15 (see March 7) thinking that he could do it by himself.  Or the Pharisees with their extreme legalism, attempting to get even with God.  But Jesus is expressing the grace of God.  The word ‘grace’ means ‘gift’.  “If you but knew the gift of God.” 

If I have never experienced this gift, I can't believe in it.  How could I?  If my sense of God is still tangled up in what Meister Eckhart called “the merchandising spirit,” I will not be able to come into my inheritance, the gift of God.  I will be measuring everything by my own reckoning; I will be totting up my account, instead of blowing figures away into absurdity, as Jesus did.  I will have none of the expansive joy of the Gospel.  And so I will be equally calculating in my relationship with other people.  I will not know how to give or how to forgive.  These two words seem to be twinned in many languages. 

A few words from the Zen Master Joko Beck, “Failing to grasp the importance of forgiveness is always part of any failing relationship and a factor in our anxieties, depressions, and illnesses - in all our troubles.  Our failure to know joy is a direct reflection of our inability to forgive…. Non-forgiveness is rooted in our habit of thinking self-centred thoughts.  When we believe in such thoughts, they are like a drop of poison in our glass of water. ” 

 

 

 
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This page gives a very brief commentary by Donagh O’Shea on the gospel reading for each day of the month. 

 

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