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.’
Notice what happens when two people who are not on speaking terms happen to meet. They put on a fixed stare, their faces become hard, their bodies rigid. In other words they become a little like two corpses. Where there is a refusal to forgive, life stops flowing and there is something akin to death. If Jesus said we should forgive endlessly, it must be because he also said he came so that we should have life and have it to the full (John 10:10).
To some people the refusal to forgive looks like strength, and forgiveness looks like weakness. This is where appearances are just the opposite of the reality. It takes strength to forgive. “The weak can never forgive,” said Mahatma Gandhi, “forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” God forgives; and there is something God-like about forgiveness. Longfellow wrote:
“For 'tis sweet to stammer one letter
Of the Eternal's language;
- on earth it is called Forgiveness!”
Jesus said he came to set prisoners free (Luke 4:18). Forgiveness sets free the person who is imprisoned by your enmity; but it frees another prisoner too: you.