|Mercy and Forgiveness|
Matthew 18:21-35 (NASB)
The question that Peter asked Jesus regarding how many times he should forgive someone who wrongs him is a question that touches us all today as we deal with people in our daily lives. According to Jewish custom at the time, it was common for the aggrieved party to forgive someone who committed an offense up to three times. Peter thought he was being more than generous by extending the number to seven. But Jesus wanted Peter and His disciples to understand the true nature, the true spirit of what forgiveness was all about. Forgiveness of someone for wrongs done against you should not be done according to a tallying sheet. That is why Jesus increased the number to 490 ("seventy times seven"), for He knew it would be at the very least extremely difficult if not impossible to keep count. And such a high number would tend to take the focus away from keeping count and put it on being as forgiving to others as God is forgiving of us when we sin.
The ensuing parable about the unmerciful servant illustrates very forcefully how we should deal with those who sin against us and seek forgiveness. As sinners saved from death by grace offered through Jesus Christ, we have been forgiven a great and impossible-to-pay debt. God forgave us from His heart by offering His only Son to die in our place. How can we accept such a magnanimous canceling of our debt while refusing to forgive our brothers and our sisters who may offend us? Our debt owed to God for which He forgave us far outweighs any debt anyone else may owe us. The sins that Christ forgave us against Him through His own blood far surpasses any sin that anyone may commit against us. The unmerciful servant in this parable did not understand that when one is forgiven a great debt, that such a person should exercise the same kind of mercy toward those who are indebted to him.
God tells us in this parable that He will be as merciful and forgiving to us as we are merciful and forgiving to others. Jesus encourages us to be forgiving as God is, not only because He has forgiven us far more than we can repay, but because it helps to makes us into more godly people. Mercy and forgiveness is a major aspect of the character of God. It is a quality that He seeks to develop in us. As we gaze upon Jesus, being grateful for His grace extended to us, and allow the Holy Spirit to work within us, we can learn to become more merciful and forgiving in dealings with our fellow human beings who may sin against us, especially if they seek our forgiveness and mercy.
We are all sinners, and even after accepting the Gospel of Christ we occasionally succumb to temptation and sin. But are we to lose hope? Fortunately, no. As we are in fellowship with Christ, confessing our sins and accepting His forgiveness and work of sanctification in our lives, we can take hope in the fact that Christ intercedes for us before the Father. And He can do so because of His all-sufficient atoning sacrifice for our sins (past, present, future) on the cross. His grace is more than sufficient for our failings. Because Jesus had gone through so much to forgive us for our sins and reconcile us to God, should we not be able to forgive those who sin against us, or slight us in some way? Since God has forgiven us much, we should be willing, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to forgive others, especially if they seek our forgiveness. This shows that we are children of God, that the Spirit dwells within us.