Forgive from the Heart

Forgiving each other seems to be something that many Christians struggle with. From my experience of serving congregations for the past thirty-five years, it is the small offences, often done without thinking, that may serve to divide Christians and even split congregations.

Forgiving each other is so important that Jesus spent quite a bit of time teaching the necessity of forgiving. He even based some of his parables on the need to forgive. One of the most striking of these, to me, is the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, recorded in Matthew 18.

“For this reason, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. As he began settling his accounts, a man who owed ten thousand talents was brought to him. Because he was not able to repay it, the lord ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, children, and whatever he possessed, and repayment to be made. Then the slave threw himself to the ground before him, saying, ‘Be patient with me, and I will repay you everything.’ The lord had compassion on that slave and released him, and forgave him the debt.” (Matthew 18:23-27 NET)

Often translations and commentaries give a small sum for the debts that we find here. The problem is that we don’t think in terms of Roman money (and a talent has nothing to do with any ability that a person might have!).

A Roman talent was equal to 15-20 years wages of labourer. A year’s wage in the United Kingdom of a minimum wage worker is £14,000 (equivalent to $20,000 at today’s exchange rate of $1.43/£1.00). So fifteen year’s wages would be equal to £210,000 ($300,000). A debt of one talent would be bad enough, but the man owed 10,000 talents! That would be equal to £2,100,000,000 today ($3,003,000,000).

How the man ran up such a debt we are not told. But one thing we do know: despite his protest that he would repay it, there was no way that would ever happen. The point Jesus is making is that this is a debt that could never be repaid.

Doesn’t this well represent the debt that we owe to God? Every sin we have ever committed is against God. If it were possible to somehow pay to have our sins forgiven, we could never do enough for God because the debt is simply too high. This is why Jesus took our place, dying for us so that our sins can be washed away.

But the story doesn’t end with the man being forgiven. Notice what the man does next. He went out and found someone who owed him some money. The debt he was owed was 100 denarii. The denarius was a coin equal to one day’s wage. In the UK, that is equivalent to £54 at our minimum wage ($77). 100 day’s wages would be around £5,400 ($7,700). Again, this is not a small debt, but it was a manageable debt – most of us owe debts for cars or houses that exceed this one. Even though the man had been forgiven his huge debt he refused to forgive this considerably smaller debt owed to him, to the extent that he had the man who owed him thrown into prison.

It isn’t hard to see that this represents the sins and offences we do against each other. They are very real but in comparison to our sins against God, they are very minimal.

The point of this parable is simply this: we need to forgive each other from the heart. What happened to the first man? His fellow slaves saw the injustice and reported it to the Lord, who reinstated his debt and turned him over to the prison guards to torture him until he repaid it all.

We need to heed Jesus’ warning: “So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Readings for next week:
1 February – Matthew 19
2 February – Matthew 20
3 February – Matthew 21
4 February – Matthew 22
5 February – Matthew 23

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