My wife and I visited my younger brother and his wife for dinner one evening. I had to laugh at what two of his daughters had done. They share a room and at some point there must have been a disagreement of some sort because they laid out a long piece of masking tape and divided the room in half – “my space and your space.” My older brother and I shared a room as kids and had done the same kind of thing on numerous occasions. It gave me bittersweet flashbacks.
Offense can be a tough thing to handle. It can cause the walls to go up, or the tape to go down depending on the situation. Sometimes we rely on the walls to help keep the peace. Of course, the Bible doesn’t call us to keep the peace, but to make peace. There is a big difference. Keeping peace allows for the offense to remain, and the walls as well. Making peace means tearing down the walls by removing the offense.
How is that done? Forgiveness. The disciples understood this, but still wanted the offender to have to bear some measure of culpability. The offender had to know that grace was only going to go so far. That’s why we see this little exchange in Matthew 18:21-35. Peter approaches the Lord and asks Him how many times forgiveness must be extended – “Up to seven times?” Considering the disciple’s diversity of backgrounds and personality types, there had to be some serious, as well as ridiculous, arguments and offenses amongst the twelve.
Let’s be plain about one thing, Peter didn’t ask the “how many times” question because he was curious. Those kind of questions don’t arise from thin air. I can imagine someone did something to Peter and he had had enough. Peter was going to get to the bottom of the shenanigans by having Jesus fill the role of referee. Maybe Phillip said something about Peter’s wife. Or perhaps Judas kept sneaking food out of Peter’s lunch. Or maybe he was mad because Bartholomew wouldn’t “stop looking at me.” Whatever it was, Peter was going to put a stop to it.
Jesus’ response didn’t bolster Peter’s position. The question of “seven times” meant there was an end to patience. The answer of, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (seventy-seven times), meant that it didn’t matter who had done what for the umpteenth time, Peter needed to forgive. There is no end to the extension of forgiveness. Jesus then went on to tell the parable of the Unmerciful Servant.
To sum it up, servant owes his master a $1 million debt. He begs for the debt to be forgiven as there is no way he can repay it, and moved with compassion the master does just that, he forgives the debt. That servant in turn goes out and finds a fellow servant that owes him $10. He refuses to forgive the debtor and has him thrown in jail. When the master finds out, he is incensed. The master has the unmerciful servant brought before him. The old debt is reinstated and has the wicked man handed over to the torturers until the debt is repaid in full.
I can see Peter’s confidence wilt in his quest for validation when Jesus gives His concluding statement, “My heavenly father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from you heart.” Wow. His words, not mine. The heavenly father will hand us over to the torturers if we do not forgive from our hearts. The Lord takes forgiveness pretty seriously.
I recently saw the movie as we forgive. It’s the story of the reconciliation process taking place in the nation of Rwanda as a result of the 1994 genocide. Over 800,000 people were killed in 100 days. Yet now, victims are being called on to forgive people who murdered entire families. It’s a very powerful movie and moved me to tears. It is, without a doubt, the most compelling and comprehensive picture of what forgiveness means, requires on both parties part, and brings when it is “from the heart.” It made me reflect on my own pettiness and refusal to forgive my offenders, and none of them has murdered my family. Obviously, it made me reflect on this passage from Matthew, hence this post. I have a new desire to forgive as I have been forgiven. Indeed, “from the heart” as my Father has forgiven me from His.
Copyright © 2012 John P. King
Verses from the NASB