17 September 2017Matthew 18:21-35
“And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.” (v. 27)
Psalm: Psalm 103
Forgiveness is all very well in principle, when you don't have anyone in particular to forgive. It sounds generous, sensible and definitely the way to go. But when you actually need to forgive someone, a neighbour, a friend, a parent or even your enemy; then forgiveness seems as hard as anything can be. You are filled with a moral outrage! It is so unfair to forgive. Surely it will set a bad example; there is moral peril here! Where would we be if there were no proper consequences for our actions, no justice or balancing of the scales? Forgiveness will certainly lead to habitual wrongdoing.
The humour of this story, and it is meant to be humorous, is in the exaggeration. The servant owes an unimaginable amount of money. How could he have possibly got into that much debt! If this was the banking world there would (or should) be internal inquiries about the checks and balances for the traders. The fellow slave owes little in comparison and Matthew's Gospel is putting the two together in this exaggerated way to raise a smile. Jesus wanted people to smile as the challenge pierces them to their heart. Clever stuff. A good story does this for us. It puts a complex moral question into a simpler framework, a cartoon world, so that the principle is revealed. We are surely in debt to God for an unimaginable amount, and there is no way any one can be that much in debt to us, so our only way of dealing with others is by forgiving them.
A phrase may stand out in all this - "out of pity". The forgiveness is not based in a balance of justice; in the fairness that we longed for as children. It is simply out of pity. Compassion for the other that overwhelms us, forces us to action. A pity fuelled by the recognition and thus the gratitude that we owe so much.
- It is hard, but who do you need to forgive at the moment? Try not to run away from the feeling of how difficult it is. Stay with the discomfort!
- It is also hard, but how are you in debt to God and to others? Stay with that to and let the sense of humble gratitude shine on the hardness of forgiveness.