How Many Times Should I Forgive?

September 12, 2010
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Matthew 18:21-35

How Many Times?

1. One time when Jesus was having a meal with tax collectors and sinners, the Pharisees asked his disciples the question, "Why does your teacher have meals with the tax collectors and the sinners?" Whereupon, having heard it, Jesus said, "The ones who need a doctor are not the well but the sick. I came, not to invite the righteous, but to invite the sinners," (Matthew 9:12-13).

2. We are here because Jesus invited us; especially because Jesus came not to invite the righteous but to invite sinners. He has invited us. Anyone surprised upon seeing there are so many sick people in the hospitals will be ignorant of what a hospital is. Anyone surprised upon seeing there are sinners in the church are ignorant of what the church is. We are sick persons invited to be cured, sinners invited to be saved. Therefore, we admit our present conditions in God's light, we repent in God's light, we seek in prayer for forgiveness, and share in forgiveness, and continue to abide in fellowship with God. In fellowship with God, we are cured, we are set free from sin, and we are changed. In that sense, all of us are persons on a journey. We are imperfect persons in process towards complete healing and complete salvation.

3. Because this is how we are, it is quite possible that we can wound each other and be wounded, we can cause others to suffer or be made to suffer by others. Therefore, we not only admit our sin to God and seek forgiveness, but we need to admit our sins to each other, seek mutual forgiveness, and be forgiving of each other. In this way then, as we forgive each other and are forgiven, as we accept each other and are accepted, we are walking toward perfect salvation. That is the church. But then also questions may come up like the one Peter once raised. Peter asked Jesus the following question. "Lord, if a brother has committed a sin against me, how many times ought I to forgive [him]? Is it up to seven times?" With that said, the sermon title is "How Many Times Should I Forgive?"

4. "How many times should I forgive [someone]?" Normally it is about to the third time [three strikes and you're out]. This seems to be universally held among all people. [The Japanese world] says, "Up to three times even [for] the face of Buddha [a phrase that is usually translated for foreigners as 'to try the patience of a saint']." It seems that even in the Jewish world it was held that God's forgiveness was for three times. When you consider that, you could make a case that what Peter asked, "Is it up to seven times?," was extraordinarily gracious. That's what you might expect since he was Jesus' top disciple, but contrary to that very thought, the reply back from Jesus was not words of praise, that "Peter, you told it correctly." The Lord said this [instead], "I say to you. Forgive more than just seven times but even up to seventy times seven!," (verse twenty-two). What an excessive [statement]! Say what you like but it seems to me to be an exaggeration! It is an extreme statement that he seems to want to make here, and then Jesus goes on and gets even more extreme and begins to tell an extreme parable.

The Deeply Merciful King

5. "So, the kingdom of heaven can be allegorized as follows. A certain king wanted to settle the accounts of money he lent to [his] servants. Just when he began to settle the accounts, a servant with a debt of ten thousand talents was brought before the king. However, since he could not pay it back, [his] master ordered the servant to pay it back by selling himself, his wife, and his children, and all his possessions. The servant fell down prostrate and pleaded hard, 'Please wait! I will surely pay it all back to you.' The master of that servant felt pity upon him, and forgave him and cancelled the debt," (twenty-three through twenty-seven).

6. If you're wondering what ten thousand talents are, it is equivalent to a working person's wages for sixty million days. Any way you figure it, he could never [pay] such a large debt. The people hearing this must not have been able to even picture this so huge an amount of money, of how much a sum ten thousand talents was in the first place. Under any circumstances [the amount] was preposterous.

7. But still, Jesus did tell this extreme tale. This is a parable of the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God. In this parable when "the king" appears in the text, it obviously points to God. The servant with the debt is us human beings. Since he is telling a story about sin and forgiveness in the first place, it is a story of our sin that is being spoken of as a debt. In short, at the time of the telling of this story, as he speaks of the servant responsible for such an unimaginably immense debt, he says, "This is you!"

8. Shortly ago I quoted the words from Jesus, "I came, not to invite the righteous, but to invite the sinners." Invited by that same Jesus we also are here in this place. So, I mentioned that we seek in prayer, we share in forgiveness, and abide in fellowship with God. That's right; here we have our own figures being seen and being shined upon by God's light in the day-to-day life of the church. Before we ever came to church, our sinfulness which we had not noticed at all had become visible. The prayer of "O Lord, please forgive me!," with which we were unfamiliar, first became a prayer from our hearts [only] gradually. But, according to Jesus' parable, we probably still can't see it. We do not understand in a true sense the depths of our sinfulness. Just as our imagination cannot see as far as the debt of ten thousand talents, our imagination cannot even see how great is the indebtedness of our sin against God.

9. However, the extremity in Jesus' parable does not stop with the amount of the debt. The master ordered the servant to "sell himself, his wife, his children and all his possessions to pay back [the loan]." I can understand this. The master was not deliberately making a cruel demand. -- Because even if he sold off everything, it would still be far from making it to ten thousand talents. What goes beyond our understanding is the next part. "The master of the servant felt pity, forgave him, and cancelled [his] debt," (verse twenty-seven). [He] cancelled a debt of ten thousand talents! That's crazy! That's not possible! That's what anyone who had heard Jesus' story must have thought. But Jesus says, that is God's forgiveness, that is God's mercy. He is saying that even though human sin is greater than you could ever imagine, God's mercy is even far greater than that.

10. Jesus is teaching us in this parable that God is such a merciful king beyond what we can imagine, and that God's kingdom is truly a kingdom of mercy. We are in this place also because we've been invited by the same Christ. We have also been invited to God's kingdom of mercy. We're invited to the kingdom in which ten thousand talent debts are being cancelled. The faith life is exactly that kind of lifestyle whereby we live as servants of this merciful monarch.

Living As Servants Of The Merciful Monarch

11. The servant in this parable began to live anew and afresh as a servant of the merciful monarch. He no longer needed to live in sorrow and fear, in self-pity and hopelessness. He did not need to live panicky over when the hour of payment would come. As person who has received mercy from a merciful king, he could live with joy and thanksgiving, yes indeed, with thanksgiving unto the king.

12. How exactly should [he] express thanksgiving unto the king? How should [he] repay the kindness bestowed upon [him]? He could never ever fully repay the kindness of [the king] who cancelled out the ten thousand talents. But, at the least there was something he could do. [He could] be merciful to somebody, like the king was merciful. As a person who had shared in the unfathomable mercy of the king, he could live sharing with somebody else some day the mercy that he had received from the king. I would think there would be numerous specific opportunities for him to share the mercy that he had received from the king. In particular, the best chance for sharing it with others and showing the mercy of the king would be when he would meet a person who sinned against him or who had injured him.

13. The chance soon came for this servant to act as a servant of the merciful king. Right from the opposite direction comes [his own] "peer who had a debt to him of one hundred denarii." The chance came. It was an opportunity that was given him through mercy. That's right because had [the king] not cancelled [his] liability of ten thousand talents, he would not have meet his peer outside. Yet, unfortunately this servant was unable to make the best of the opportunity. Jesus continues to tell the parable as follows.

14. "However though, this servant went outside, and when he met [his] peer who had a debt to him of one hundred denarii, he grabbed and choked his neck and said, 'Pay me the loan!' The peer threw himself down prostrate and pleaded hard, 'Please wait because I will pay you back.' But not accepting it, he dragged the peer and put him in jail until he pays back the debt. [Their] peers saw the situation and were pained in their hearts a great deal, and went before the master and fully informed him of the incident. Whereupon, the master summoned that servant in and said, 'You are an insolent servant. When you pleaded [with me], I cancelled your debt completely. Just as I had mercy upon you, should not you have had mercy upon your own peer?' And, the master grew angry, and he handed the servant over to the jailer until he pays back the loan in full," (verses twenty-eight through thirty-four).

15. The text has, "The master grew angry." In this parable, the master began to get mad. Even though he could not pay the ten thousand talents, the master did not grew angry over that. The anger of the master was over the betrayal of the master's expectations. What was the master expecting [from the man]? "Just as I had mercy upon you, should not you have had mercy upon your own peer?," (verse thirty-three). That's it. This was the one and only thing that the master was looking for. What the master was looking for was that he live with mercy as a person who had received mercy, and not the sum of money that would take him his whole life to make up for, not to live bearing a burden of debt the rest of his life.

16. Peter said, "Lord, if a brother has committed a sin against me, how many times ought I to forgive [him]? Is it up to seven times?" When you're counting up the number, whether three or seven times, it really means that you are still in your mind stacking up the debts. One man has this much debt. He increased his debt one more. When this is the way our mind is, it's all the same whether it's seven times, eight times or four hundred and ninety times. Jesus is saying something totally different. As servants of the merciful master, we will make the best of every encounter, as opportunities to express the deep mercy of the master. A number of such chances may [come our way]. The church is full of such chances. Those who live that way don't take count of the times they have forgiven. That's what seventy times seven means.