Often as I read the New Testament I’m grateful for the documented dialogue that Peter had with Jesus. I’m not sure if all of the disciples remembered more about his interactions with Jesus or if he was simply the one who always took the risk of asking that was in his thoughts but Peter provides some of the most human input for me to digest. In this dialogue Peter exposes his irritation with forgiving others as he asks how many times do I forgive my brothers? This is Matthews account of this conversation along with Jesus answer and accompanying parable:
Matthew 18:21–35 (ESV)
21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.
23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him (Man #1) who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants (Man #2) who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Jesus takes the concept to an ultimate extreme of forgiveness. One commentator describes the debt of the man (Man #1) to his master as 10, 000 years of wages. The amount is excessive and unforgivable. Yet, the master who is full of compassion and mercy forgives the debt. The problem with the forgiveness is that although it was forgiven from the heart of the master which was pure and full of compassion the man (Man #1) simply regarded it with greed and began to use his new release to get ahead by pursuing a miniscule debt from a man intent on using it to increase his wealth. I can almost see his eyes bugging out of his head as he is imagining that he went from impossibly IN THE RED to being in the black with this payment from Man #2.
I’m sure that Peter was just pressing Jesus for some help with a couple men that irritated him. I translate this question in my thoughts as Lord at what number can I stop being Mr. Nice Guy? Jesus, turns the table on Peter by putting their own debt into perspective. If I were to put myself in Peter’s shoes I could hear Jesus saying, Dale, if you have received such mercy from God then how could you even consider someone else’s debt except in terms of God’s mercy. God’s mercy constrains me to extend forgiveness to everyone everytime- and from my heart nonetheless.
Grace and Peace