21. Peter approached Jesus and asked him, "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?" 22. Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
23 That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. 24. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. 25. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. 26. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.' 27. Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. 28. When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, 'Pay back what you owe.' 29. Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' 30. But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt. 31. Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. 32. His master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. 33. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?' 34. Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt.
35. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart."
The text from last Sunday’s gospel leads into the question that begins the gospel text for this week. Last week Matthew recorded Jesus’ instruction that his followers must seek reconciliation with those who feel that they have been offended. Matthew also noted the respect that God has in heaven for what is done on earth.
Peter’s question suggests that the followers of Jesus are expected to forgive as many as seven times. Given that a rabbi of the day taught that one fulfilled one’s obligation when one had forgiven seven times, Peter’s statement is keeping with the generous standard of his day. Jesus insists the members of his community should forgive seventy-seven times. Other translations of this text render it seventy times seven. The point is the same.
The parable illustrates Jesus’ point. It demonstrates the extent to which one must be willing to forgive and the consequences of those who do not forgive. Verse 23 indicates that Jesus is telling the parable to demonstrate how forgiveness is in the realm of God. It also reflects the Near Eastern reality where kings exercised power over life and death. The first debtor owed ten thousand talents. The second owed one denarii. It took six thousand denarii to have the equivalent of one talent. The contrast in the amount owed is consistent with the punishment that each could receive. The first could lose wife, children, all his property and, most importantly, his status as a free person in society. The second man is put in prison until he can repay what he, his family and friends can raise. The response of both men to the possible punishment is exactly the same; it is only the outcome that is different. The last line of the text makes the point. God is like the generous king in the parable who is willing to forgive our great debt. Disciples are expected to imitate that generosity in their own dealings with one another.
In our society, offenses and events of the day are often reported in terms of economic impact. Wars, hurricanes, and the merger of companies are given a dollar value while relationships and people’s lives that will be affected throughout the community are not taken into account. (Money is easier to count than the number of people affected.) Our approach is much different than would have been the norm for Jesus. The real damage of sin was what it did to relationships. In the parable, the king most likely forgives an impossible debt (It would have taken 164,000 years of working 7 days a week for a laborer to earn 10,000 talents.) because not to do so would mean the king would lose honor with the rest of his household. Equally important is the fact that he also must put the servant in jail because of that same code of honor. If he does not do so, his servant appears to have gotten the upper hand. He was able to get free of his debt without having to live by his master’s standards. This society functioned very differently than our own.
1. What do you think Peter is feeling as he asks his question at the beginning of the text? What would be on your heart if you were asking God how many times you had to forgive the other members of your family or church community?
2. Can you recall mistakes that you have made where you truly believed that you would never be fully forgiven? Even before the situation played out, how did the knowledge that you had done such a thing affect the relationship?
3. Are there people who have offended you in such a way you truly believe that you would not and could not ever forgive that person? How does that affect you?
4. Are there people you know who seem to have a great ability to forgive?
• How does this ability seem to affect the rest of their life?
• How does it affect their relationships with others?
5. AA asks members in recovery have to begin to forgive those who have offended them. Why? What can you learn from them? Would you benefit from having a mentor in the area of forgiveness?
6. We read this gospel on the anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center towers. What are you being called to as you hear God speaking his word to you in the midst of a country that is still grieving and angry?
Reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF