Peter posed, Peter proposed and Christ disposed – Thursday, 19th Week in ordinary time – Matthew 18:21-19:1
Remember that chapter 18 of the Gospel of Mattew deals with issues in the community and is the fourth of Mattew’s discourses found in this Gospel. It is aptly called ‘community discourse’. Jesus has just addressed the issue of a sinful brother in the community and the way one ought to ‘carefront’ him and not comfort him. We are used to either confronting others harshly ( I am guilty of this) or we comfort them in their wrongdoing by avoiding even a discussion of the sinful behaviour at hand. ‘Carefrontation’ combines truth and love; for love without truth is sentimental and truth without love is cruel.
Now, Peter has a hypothetical situation or perhaps one that he was struggling with himself. What does one do with a member of the Church who sins against another member of the Church? How often should one forgive that member? Notice that the Gospel of Matthew is the only Gospel that uses the word ‘Church,’ which, from the Greek, translates as ‘ a calling out of.’ That is what a Church is, ‘people called out.’ Ironically we have become a people who are comfortable in!
Peter not only poses the question but proposes the answer. For the Jews, an errant community member needed to be forgiven thrice. Ironically, they did not offer the same courtesy to a Gentile because a Gentile was treated as ‘the enemy’ by virtue that they did not share the same religious beliefs. Ironically, much of this hate continues across the world today. We seem to have grown technologially but have not transforemd mentally.
Peter assumes that his generous offer to forgive seven times, four times more than what his Jewish brothers would have done, should have earned him a meritorious mention by Jesus. Peter’s jaw must have certainly dropped at the Lord’s answer. Seventy times seven was certainly not the answer he imagined. Peter must have thought that Our Lord had finally lost it. Sure, the Lord had said some rather challenging statements in the past but this was not challenging, this was outright ridiculous. Perhaps, it was Peter’s look of disbelief and horror that prompted the parable of the ‘unforgiving servant.’ (verse 18:23-19:1)
The parable has many little details that are of great interest. Sadly, these little details in the parable get overshadowed compared to the larger message of forgiveness that we have got accustomed to hearing or the teaching that this parable ought to bear upon us. So the question we need to ask at first is, how in God’s name did the servant of the King end up with a debt so high and even more how did the King permit such a debt to accumulate?
Ten thousand talents are no small amount. One talent is equal to 5,475 denarii ( one dinar is a day’s labour) and the debt had stacked up to 54,750 denarii or about 150 years of labour. So how did the King slip up in overlooking the debt of his servant, or did he?
I want to flip this parable a bit. Nothing misses the eye of the King and I am explicitly referring not to the king in the parable but to Jesus our King. If our debt to Jesus has so greatly accumulated to 150 years of labour then it indicates that we have not been prudent with our life choices and so have had to overborrow mercy from Him. It is more than clear that borrowing has now become a habit, permitting a mounting debt to reach astronomical proportions, so much so that it can’t be paid. Ironically we borrow again.
The King on the other hand is fully aware of the debt owed and even more fully aware that the debt can’t be paid back to Him. His magnanimous heart has already figured this out and he knows that He will have to cancel the debt even though the threat of punishment is part of the deal. Yet he forgives and waves off the debt; an act of generosity unmatched by human kindness.
Now the question that remains is this; having been forgiven much, should we also not forgive as much or should it still be a measured ‘seven times?’
Peter, got the point, and hopefully we have too!