Feuds. Grudges. Petty squabbles. Bickering. We are prone to holding onto a lot when we feel like we are owed something. Maybe money. Perhaps respect. Credit for being right. For me, it was respect. The third grade teacher who stuck me in a corner like an outcast and then in a closet to stare at reams of paper for a week at a time. The “big brother” who thought I would never amount to anything… and told me as much. The professor who said I wasn’t cut out to be a pastor. The bishop that got rid of me as quickly as possible because I held the wrong theology. And as each year went by, I struggled to prove them wrong…waiting until they came crawling to me to beg for forgiveness. I stopped waiting.
Peter, in classic “Peter” fashion, asks Jesus what the limit is to forgiveness when someone wrongs you in Matthew 18: 21-35. He might as well have said… “OK. When do you no longer have to forgive someone? What if they insult you? How long?” It’s like Peter was looking for Jesus to provide him a fee chart for forgiveness. Twice for being snippy? Five times for taking the last piece of pie? Seventy times for borrowing your lawnmower and bringing it back broken? Jesus changes the question on itself and defines WHY to forgive, not how many times to do it.
The King is owed an unpayable amount and when the servant is faced with how he could never repay it, he begs for mercy. The King is moved by compassion, not charity, to erase the debt. The servant is free. However, the servant turns around and leaves…. And runs to his friend or coworker and demands his much, much…MUCH SMALLER debt be paid. NOW! His debtor, unable to pay it at that point, but perhaps sometime, begs for mercy to be able to pay it in time. The servant is not moved… “I want my money!!!” is his response, and calls to have the friend thrown in jail until he can pay. This response is noted by another servant who knows how harsh the forgiven servant has acted and tells the King. The King rescinds the offer of mercy and is thrown in jail for being an ungrateful and foolish recipient of His mercy.
My anger, pain, and hostility punished no one but me. I was owed respect but I had been forgiven so much more than any of those people combined. I had learned so harshly the meaning of the phrase, “Forgiveness is setting the prisoner free…and realizing that the prisoner was you.” The question of whether to forgive or not is really the question… where do you want to spend your time and energies? In the open air of grace or the prison of anger and resentment? So which side of the bars are you on?
Are you owed something by someone that you need to just let go?
Is your unforgiveness doing you more harm than the unforgiven did you?
Has the King of kings forgiveness of your debt been forsaken for your pride?