Today’s Gospel story is on the surface about forgiveness, we should forgive other people, however, I think it is much deeper than that.
Jesus parable points us to his teaching not just about forgiving others, not even just about being forgiven ourselves by God but about forgiveness as part of who we are.
Essentially it is in our DNA not just something that we do.
In our Gospel reading we see a conversation between Peter and Jesus about standing in a different place, and beginning to see from a different perspective.
Peter understands Jesus teaching on reconciliation, on the need for forgiveness, he is now trying to establish how much is needed.
Peter knows that it will be quite a high demand, hence his ‘seven times’, for the time this is very generous. Peter is thinking of himself as the one kindly doing the forgiving and being generous about it.
Jesus response must have been a shock not 7 but 70x7 (or 77 depending on the translation!) Either way it is effectively – so many times you can’t keep count!!
As if that was not shocking enough Jesus tells a parable with the purpose of changing Peter’s (and our) perspective. Jesus poses the question in the parable – what about the fact that you are the one who has received forgiveness, lots of it, from God? The parable effectively asks us the question ‘who do you think you are?’
Peter and we are reminded that we are not like God blameless and perfect, giving of our mercy, we are like the debtor who is called to forgive others because we ourselves have been forgiven.
Normally we may not think we are like the one owing 10,000 talents – essentially the biggest number anyone could think of!
We can probably, quite easily, find others much worse than ourselves, but, this parable challenges us to compare ourselves not to others but to God and standing in that comparison none of us come up to scratch no matter how good we are. Forgiveness is an important part of our Christian experience.
Forgiveness though is more than just writing off a debt, it’s more than the often glib ‘forgive and forget’ which might work for a forgotten birthday or accidental minor hurt, but for that which is serious forgiveness is difficult. Humanly speaking we, like the servant in the parable, find forgiving others doesn’t always come naturally, in some ways it is easier when others forgive us.
However, our ability to live and breathe forgiveness will also extend to being able to forgive ourselves, something many of us find the most difficult, again accepting forgiveness for small things, for mistakes, is relatively easy but the bigger the issue the harder we find forgiving ourselves or others.
Forgiveness in the way that God demonstrates is something costly, it can be painful, it causes a change in behaviour and it is not restricted to those who we know and love. We cannot have one attitude to loved ones and a different attitude to others.
God’s forgiveness is not only for a certain kind of person, who is essentially good but makes mistakes, God’s forgiveness is scandalously inclusive –available to anyone without limit.
This is difficult for us as human beings. Generosity is easier with those we love but harder with strangers.
I want to share with you a heart-breaking story, it’s not about forgiveness directly but it shows us something about how hard it is to have that generosity to everyone in the way we might to those closest to us.
It is a story told about an American soldier who was finally coming home after having fought in Vietnam.
I don’t know whether it is true or not but it goes like this…
The Soldier called his parents from San Francisco.
“Mom and Dad, I’m coming home, but I’ve a favour to ask. I have a friend I’d like to bring home with me.”
“Sure,” they replied. “We’d love to meet him.”
“There’s something you should know,” the son continued. “He was hurt pretty badly in the fighting. He stepped on a land mine and lost an arm and a leg. He has nowhere else to go, and I want him to come live with us.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, son. Maybe we can help him find somewhere to live.”
“No, Mom and Dad, I want him to live with us.”
“Son,” said the father, “you don’t know what you’re asking. Someone with such a handicap would be a terrible burden to us. We have our own lives to live, and we can’t let something like this interfere with our lives. I think you should just come on home and forget about this guy. He’ll find a way to live on his own.”
At that point, the son hung up the phone. The parents heard nothing more from him. A few days later, however, they received a call from the San Francisco police. Their son died after falling from a building, they were told. The police believed it was suicide.
The grief-stricken parents flew to San Francisco and were taken to the city morgue to identify the body of their son.
They recognized him, but to their horror they also discovered something they didn’t know—their son had only one arm and one leg.
If this is a true story those parents will have found forgiving themselves to be the hardest thing.
Their response was completely understandable in many ways, we all only have limited resources, if they’d known it was their son then their response would of course have been different.
That is the challenge for us.
God’s forgiveness is not conditional, it does not depend who we are, or what we have done, it is outrageous Grace through Jesus life, death and resurrection, this is the kind of forgiveness we are called to have.
For humanity it is hard but as we seek to be more Christlike we seek to forgive and to love more than we imagined was possible – in fact alone it is not possible but with God all things are possible, even for us.