To Forgive or Not To Forgive

Matthew 18:23-35

When the king in today's Gospel decided to settle up accounts with his servants, he found one servant who owed him ten thousand talents. Letís assume they were silver talents rather than the more valuable gold. In todayís money ó that's still much more than 100 million dollars. Jesus probably chose the amount to indicate an astronomical sum, beyond anything the servant could even dream of ever repaying on a working man's wages.

Faced with total ruin, the servant pleaded for more time, offering an empty promise to pay back every cent. The king wasn't stupid; he knew the man kneeling before him could never repay even a fraction of what he owed. So, instead of casting him into the dungeon, he told the servant to forget the debt. With a stroke of a pen, the king dismissed the huge debt entirely.

Though relieved at having a lifetime of debt lifted from his shoulders, and humbled by the great generosity of his king, the servant immediately went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller sum, grabbed him by the throat and snarled, "Pay up!" The ungrateful servant had learned firsthand the joy and relief of being forgiven, and yet was unable to share that experience with the man who owed him a debt.

We know, of course, that Jesus was using money debts as a metaphor to talk about forgiving the people in our lives for the mean, spiteful and sometimes even malicious things they do to us, and the opportunities we miss when we refuse to forgive.

What would have happened if he had followed the king's example? It would have been the most natural thing in the world to tell the other man about his own experience, about the king who forgave him everything and taught him how to forgive. He and his fellow servant could have celebrated together, both experiencing the same mind-boggling sense of relief and joy. Instead, that opportunity was lost forever, and ended in disaster for both men.

What if we became so grateful for the forgiveness given us by Jesus that we became extravagant "forgivers," generously forgiving "those who trespass against us," as we promise to do when we pray the Lord's prayer? I believe the people in our lives would notice that we don't forgive the way the world forgives. They'd begin to see that we're not petty "forgivers," that we don't keep them in the penalty box of our heart where we say we've forgiven them but, in reality, we never really trust them or even treat them quite the same way again.

What if, with Jesus' help, we threw away the score card and stopped keeping score against the people in our lives, forgave the wrongs they've done and started over, erasing their wrongs from our memory? Don't you and I wish, in our private moments, that our friends and family would do exactly that with some of our own wrongdoing? What if we took our forgiveness of others to that level?

I imagine some would wonder why. Why we forgave them so totally, when perhaps no one else would. Some might even ask. And that's when we can tell them about the King Who forgave us completely and unconditionally for the terrible situations we could never hope to fix.

Maybe this kind of extravagant forgiveness goes against our sense of justice. Maybe we want to see the one who wronged us get what's coming to him, a self-satisfying thought. But the King who taught us extravagant forgiveness said, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay." As much as our human nature wants to see the one who wronged us suffer, it's not our job anymore, once we accept the King's total pardon.

How we treat each other is eternal. What we say to each other has consequences we can't even imagine. And the simple act of forgiving someone, really forgiving them for everything, can change their life. It will certainly change ours.

"Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us," so that we might tell them about the King Who forgave us everything, and Who taught us how to forgive.

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