Reading: Matthew 18:21-35
Christianity is dependent on several teachings, one of these is forgiveness. Forgiveness takes a prominent part in the gospels. When Jesus teaches how to pray in the sermon on the mount, he tells the people to pray: “Forgive us as we forgive”, and after the prayer, he tells the people that if they forgive, they will be forgiven, but if they do not forgive they will not be forgiven. This teaching is consistent; one things that stands out to me is that on the cross Jesus prays: “Father forgive them.”
In today’s reading, we read a parable of about a man who was forgiven a debt of 10,000 talents. A talent is a unit of weight, and Greek word used to give us 10,000 is the word we get the English word myriad from. A literal 10,000 talents is 300 tons; 300 tons of gold is worth a little over 16 billion dollars using today’s exchange rates — though, considering a myriad talents describes more money that one could imagine, a trillion dollar dept might be a better translation.
It is impossible that this represents a personal debt to the king; this is debt to a nation, and the loss of such a treasure would be disastrous to even the greatest of nations. The servant who owes this great debt has been a poor servant to both king and country. Forgiving this noncollectable debt instead of punishing the servant likely would cause great anger against the king for casually allowing the nation’s wealth to be wasted.
When this man is forgiven of an unimaginable debt, his response is to find someone who owes him a hundred debased silver coins about the size of quarters, working out to less than \$500 in metal value and demand that he repay the debt right away. When this man with a small debt was not able to repay on demand, the man forgiven a great debt proceeded to have him arrested and imprisoned until the debt was paid off. The king, when he heard what happened called the man who’s debt had been forgiven in, told him that he should have also shown mercy and threw him in prison.
Jesus goes on to say: “This is how your heavenly father will treat you if you do not forgive.” This is a message that Jesus gives multiple times, that we are to forgive as we hope God will forgive us — we are to show the mercy that we hope to be shown. As difficult as it is to accept, Jesus tells us over and over again that we set the standard of our own judgment. If we are harsh with others, God will be harsh with us. If we are generous with others, God will be generous with us.
The more I think about this saying, and others like it — the more I notice Jesus on the cross saying: “Father forgive them.” Jesus prays for the forgiveness of those who subverted justice to put him on the cross. The Gospels make it clear that Jesus’ trial was irregular and of dubious legality. The gospels make it clear that Justice was in no way satisfied when Jesus was nailed to the cross; but Jesus prayed God would forgive those who acted unjustly. Jesus died because people were sinful — they were jealous, they feared that they would lose power or that they world would change. They participated in murder because they were sinful — Jesus was put on the cross as a direct result of these sins; he suffered for the sins of others. When we have something to forgive, in general, it is because we suffer for the sins of others. Jesus gave us the example of what we are to do; we are to forgive.
Unfortunately, karma has bad aim. Other people suffer for our sins. Often it seems that the sinner is rewarded for his sinful behavior while other suffer. This observation about sin is often found in the Old Testament; it is a theme in Ecclesiastes, and Psalm 73 covers this observation at length with lines like: “I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong, they are free from common human burdens, they are not plagued by human ills” (Psalm 73:3-5 NRSV) It seems that those who make a deal with the devil live a charmed life.
Christianity is, however, not about living a charmed life it is about forgiveness. We believe that Christ came to forgive our sins, and to save us from our sins. We believe that we are a community of forgiven people, and our have hope that the same one who prayed that those who killed Him unjustly would be forgiven will also forgive us. Christ teaches us that we must practice the same kind of forgiveness that we are offered. Parables such as the man forgiven a great debt punishing the one who could not repay a much smaller debt show us how we are to behave.
The problem is that forgiveness is easy until there is something to forgive. We like the idea of forgiveness, but when you’ve been wronged can be very difficult to let go of the hurt. If I were on the cross, I would not be praying for the forgiveness of those who put me there. It is hard enough for me to forgive the minor things that happen in my daily life. The lesson that I have to learn is that I must forgive as I want to be forgiven. If I want God to forgive my everything, I must be willing to forgive my neighbor’s slight that only costs me an inconvenience.