21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. 28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. 29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ 30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Matthew 18:21-35 (NIV)
Cancer is something that scares us out of our minds, especially if our families have a history with it. In the last year I experienced a great deal of loss. My dad, brother, and grandmother died from cancer. I walked with the three of them in different ways as their bodies corroded from the inside out. I saw the frailty of their humanity as it dissolved into dust, “for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”
In the same way, unforgiveness is something that can corrode our souls and kill our relationships.
In this week’s reading, Jesus and Peter have a conversation that addresses this issue. It begins with Peter asking how many times he should forgive someone who has sinned against him. Jesus basically responds by saying he should forgive them an endless amount of times.
He then tells a story to flesh out his point. Jesus shares about a king who is in the process of settling his accounts with all of his servants. One of them owed an astronomical amount and couldn’t pay his debt. Contrary to the common practice of the day, the king decides to forgive the entirety of his servant’s debt. This forgiveness mirrors new creation; it generates a new reality with new possibilities for this forgiven servant. He has literally been saved and given new life.
Shortly after, the forgiven servant encounters a peer who owes him a small amount of money. Instead of keeping the chain of forgiveness going, he grabs him by the neck and throws him in jail until he services his debt. This is where the cancer begins. Instead of spreading goodness and a new way of believing in God’s abundance, he breaks the chain of forgiveness and falls into a mindset of scarcity.
It’s easy to judge this servant because Jesus’ story is so exaggerated. The servant clearly comes across as a “bad guy.” But I wonder, if we all took a really good look in the mirror, might we discover that deep down, in our own unique ways, we have more in common with this servant than we realize?
One of my most beautiful experiences of forgiveness came from my dad. As he was lying on his deathbed, he said to me, “I hold nothing against you.” These words meant the world to me.
You see, when my parents separated, I gave my dad a ride to the bus stop and told him I never wanted to hear from him again. I still have a vivid memory of the moment, and even the night sky that surrounded us. Fast forward ten years later, I held my dad’s hand, and experienced a new creation. I had been forgiven for something that was not even my fault, but for which I blamed myself, my parents' separation.
My personal experience with forgiveness helps me to explore the passage, and how humans experience forgiveness. If we cannot find the beginning of the chain of forgiveness, we will end up grabbing each other’s throats with no time to think about being the first link of the chain that forgives. However, if we stop, and think of what being forgiven is, the cancer of violence, and lack of forgiveness can be cured. In my case, I still have a long way to go in forgiving others. However, when I see the forgiveness I experienced when holding my dad’s hand, I can dream, and reimagine new ways of relating to others.
The Union Church of Guatemala
Leaders & Church Staff
Dr. Ralph Porter
Women's Ministry President