Matthew 18:21, “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?”
The Webster Dictionary defines forgiveness in two parts. Part one is “to give up resentment of, or claim to requital to grant relief from payment of a debt.” Part two is “to cease to feel resentment against an offender.” In short, forgiveness is part, canceling a debt and part, not feeling angry about it. Part one is the physical consequence to repair and repay out of my own resources or checkbook. Part two is an emotional and or relational set of consequences to work through within my heart.
I may be going out on a limb here, and it may be a risk, but I think it needs to be said. Forgiving someone by cutting a check or releasing a debt, can be easier at times than forgiving someone emotionally and relationally within one’s heart, mind and thought life. To give this a personal slant though, I need to be reminded almost daily, that my sin causes God to have to work through both parts of forgiveness if he is going to forgive me fully and allow the relationship to be repaired completely.
From my earliest childhood memories, I can recall singing the old precious hymns of how Jesus death on the cross could pay my debt of sin. Hymns like “Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain. He washed it white as snow.” Just reading the words on the page brings back the old familiar melody once again inside my head, ten pews back, right side of church, red hymnal in hand, Central Bible Church, 1976.
Yet as often as I would sing that song as a child, very rarely did I ever stop and truly consider the obvious question being considered, “How much was the debt? How much damage did not sin create that I am asking God forgive? If I did have to pay for my own sin, could I?” Questions like that should truly haunt us and keep us awake at night until we big down deep and truly find out the answer to the question – “How much?”
In Matthew 18:21-35 Peter asks Jesus an honest question. “How many times should I forgive someone?” In response, Jesus tells Peter a parable that answers his question of “How many times?” and our question of “How much?” all at the same time. Jesus tells us the classic story that has come to be known as “The Unforgiving Servant.”
Jesus begins by telling of a servant who was forgiven a debt that is akin to our sin. This servant owed a huge sum to the king. How much? He owed 10,000 talents of gold to be exact. Now that doesn’t mean a lot to us until you begin to unwind just how much this sum adds up to. One talent of gold, back then, was worth 20 years wages for an average laborer. 20 years times 10,000 talents equates to 200,000 years of wages for an average laborer. Let’s put this in perspective for our time and situation in life.
If you assume say that the average worker in the US makes say $25,000 a year. When you take that amount and times it by 200,000 years you come up with a debt that would equal $5 billion dollars. Now I do not know about you, but currently, there are only a handful of people in the entire world that could pay that amount even if they wanted to. Yet even if there are a few people who could pay that amount, there are zero people I know of that make $25,000 a year that could pay back a debt of $5b dollars. And that is the point.
The idea of the parable that Jesus relates here in Matthew is not that there are a few who can pay their own way while most cannot. It is the idea that no one who makes $25,000 a year can repay a debt of $5b without someone else paying the debt for them. That is the problem all human beings find themselves thrown into once born into this world. A problem they cannot fix themselves. A problem they have to look to someone else to wipe that slate clean because the debt is too large to ever have even a chance of repayment.
When a debt that large is wiped out, it takes on more of the idea of a pardon than just straight outright forgiveness.
So how about you? Have you sinned? Do you have a debt that needs to be forgiven? Do you have events in your life that needs to be atoned for? Do you find ourself in need of a pardon? Do you find yourself owing a debt so large you have no idea how you would ever repay all of it? Well if so, join the crowd. We are all in the same predicament of being “guilty as charged.”
Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way, but the Lord has laid on him the inquiry of us all.”
That is the predicament, but here comes the solution.
Isaiah 1:18, “Come now let us reason together says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”
What does that mean? It means we can be forgiven. Both parts as Webster’s Dictionary tells us. Not only does God pardon our sin and the debt it creates, he no longer feels resentful or angry that you sinned against him in the first place, thus allowing the relationship to once again be fully restored.
In short, Trust is rebuilt and restored between you and God. Trust is reborn when a debt beyond measure is pardoned and a gift beyond description is received. Trust can begin today but like all pardon’s ever handed out, you have to accept it. This pardon all happens instantly by simply humbling yourself and asking God to forgive you of all your sin. Today.
Reminds me of the old hymn, “He paid a debt he did not owe. I owed a debt I could not pay. I needed someone to wash my sins away. Now I sing a brand new song; Amazing Grace, for Jesus paid a debt I could never pay.”
D. Mike Collins
Habakkuk 2:4 “The Just shall live by faith.”