Peter asked Jesus, «Lord, how many times must I forgive the offenses of my brother or sister? Seven times?». Jesus answered, «No, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
»This story throws light on the kingdom of heaven. A king decided to settle the accounts of his servants. Among the first was one who owed him ten thousand gold ingots. As the man could not repay the debt, the king commanded that he be sold as a slave with his wife, children and all his goods in payment. The official threw himself at the feet of the king and said, ‘Give me time, and I will pay you back everything’. The king took pity on him and not only set him free but even canceled his debt.
»This official then left the king's presence and he met one of his companions who owed him a hundred pieces of silver. He grabbed him by the neck and almost strangled him, shouting, ‘Pay me what you owe me!’. His companion threw himself at his feet and asked him, ‘Give me time, and I will pay everything’. The other did not agree, but sent him to prison until he had paid all his debt. His companions saw what happened. They were indignant and so they went and reported everything to their lord. Then the lord summoned his official and said, ‘Wicked servant, I forgave you all that you owed when you begged me to do so. Weren't you bound to have pity on your companion as I had pity on you?’. The lord was now angry, so he handed his servant over to be punished, until he had paid his whole debt». Jesus added, «So will my heavenly Father do with you unless each of you sincerely forgive your brother or sister».
To a simple question of Peter, Jesus is inviting him to look the same another way to find out by himself, the divine will, and particularly in his pursuit for an answer towards the perfection. If we look at this story deeply, we will find that it is not the question of forgiveness, rather a question of divine justice. Many of us refuse to forgive, because we find in pardon or forgiveness, there is a great contradiction of justice. In today’s story, we will find out that justice and pardon have to co-exist.
If the master has expected this man to do exactly what he has done to the debtor, it is because the master has released him from all the debt, knowing well that this gentile man can’t afford to pay back, believing that others didn’t keep up the word. By doing so, the master has released not only this debtor, but all those who couldn’t bay back to this debtor, one of the causalities essential of the delay and inability.
What this wicked man has done is, he has stolen what is supposed to be, something reserved to the master. What he could have done is, simply forgive the other (because the master has forgiven him) or return the amount to the master, because it belonged to the master. Thus we can conclude that in this story God is demanding us, to be just. We have received it freely and we have the obligation to distribute the same freely.
If we look very deep into our personal life, there will be many such occasions where we have behaved just like this wicked man, totally forgetting all that we have received from the Lord. Thus, if God asks us to forgive, it is not from our pocket, rather, He is asking us to distribute what is justly belong to Him and reasonably meant for others. It is not because that we judge the other person as worthy of this forgiveness (they may not even merit it), rather God has a reason to accord this to them, and through them to others. Why to hold on the divine grace with us, while we don’t have the right to hold on and others (the recipients are unknown to us) are badly in-need of it?
«The king took pity on him and not only set him free but even canceled his debt»
Fr. Enric PRAT i Jordana
(Sort, Lleida, Spain)
Today, Matthew's Gospel invites us to ponder over the mystery of forgiveness by proposing a parallel between God's ways and our own human behavior when it comes to forgiving others.
Man even dares measuring and keeping control of the magnanimity of his forgiving nature: «Lord, how many times must I forgive the offenses of my brother or sister? Seven times?» (Mt 18:21). Peter felt seven times was a bit too much, perhaps the very maximum we can stand. In fact, Peter comes out of it quite splendidly if compared to the official of the parable who, when he met one of his companions who owed him a hundred pieces of silver, «grabbed him by the neck and almost strangled him, shouting, ‘Pay me what you owe!’» (Mt 18:28), refusing to listen to his pleading and promises of payment.
In actual fact, man either refuses to forgive or miserly measures out his forgiveness. Who would actually say that we have just received from God an infinitely reiterated and limitless forgiveness…? The parable says: «The king took pity on him and not only set him free but even canceled his debt» (Mt 18:27). And this, despite the fact his debt was very big.
But the parable we are commenting on emphasizes God's ways when it comes to granting forgiveness. After calling the debtor's attention to the gravity of his situation, he suddenly took pity on him before his humble and sorrowful pleading: «(...) he threw himself at the feet of the king and said, ‘Give me time, and I will pay you back everything’. The king took pity...» (Mt 18:26-27). This episode reflects what each one of us knows by our own experience and with deep gratitude: that God forgives the repentant and converted one without any limit. The negative and sad ending of the parable, however, honors justice and evidences the truth of Jesus' words in Lk 6:38: «For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you».