“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’Matthew 18:32-33 NIV
In Matthew 18:21 Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who has sinned against him. I suspect Peter thought he was being generous when he suggested forgiving them up to 7 times. And I am sure he was quite taken aback when Jesus responds with a much larger number; either 77 or 490, the text is unclear which. Regardless the number, Jesus essentially tells him that he should continue to forgive, not keeping track of how many times the forgiveness has occurred. Then he relates a parable to reinforce the lesson.
In the parable a king forgives the debt of a servant who owed him a very large amount. The forgiven man then demands payment of a much smaller debt from a second servant. When he is unable to pay the first servant throws the second into debtors prison until he can make restitution. When word of this gets back to the king, the king rebukes the unforgiving servant, reinstitutes his debt, and tosses him into prison. The punchline for the parable is that we can expect to be treated similarly by God if we are unwilling to sincerely forgive those who harm us.
Mercy and Forgiveness
Forgiveness can be hard, especially when it needs to be repeated over and over again. But Jesus gives us two reasons why we need to forgive. The first is because we have been shown mercy by God. And in like manner we also should show mercy to those around us. Showing mercy is expected from those who have been shown mercy.
The second reason he gives is that my forgiveness is in some way dependent on my willingness to forgive in turn. As challenging as that might be, Jesus is pretty explicit about it. Unless we forgive others from our heart, God will hold us accountable for our sins.
As those that have received mercy and forgiveness from God, let us in turn show mercy to others, and be willing to forgive the hurts they cause us.