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Jesus and Forgiveness

    Posted by Klaus Issler on March 19, 2009

One of the important themes in Jesus’ own life and his teaching is forgiving others. This theme takes a prominent place in the prayer he taught his disciples, which is prayed daily, around the world, by Jesus’ followers today:

“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt 6:12 NIV).  

Our request to God the Father is based on our own practice of forgiving others.  Jesus further underscores the importance of such practice with a strong conditional statement that our own unforgiveness puts a barrier between us and God preventing God from extending relational forgiveness to us:  

“For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt 6:14-15, TNIV).

Later in his ministry, Jesus gives us a concrete example of what he means in the parable about the King and the two servants in Matthew 18: 23-35. The day of reckoning had come for all those who had loans from the king. Pay up or go to jail.  One particular servant owed the king so large an amount of money, he could never ever repay it in his lifetime (10,000 talents were owed; a talent was half a lifetime’s wages; the text literally says a “myriad” of talents—the largest Greek numeral available, equivalent to billions of dollars today! Hagner/France). The king demanded he pay or he would sell him along with his family to get some monetary return. The servant fell on his knees and begged for mercy to which the king, taking pity on him, canceled the full debt, and released him! Yet that same servant, forgiven a debt of billions of dollars, found a fellow servant to whom he had loaned about three or four months’ wages (100 denarii; he himself had been forgiven a debt of 60 million denarii), and demanded repayment, and abused him physically.  That servant also fell to the ground and pleaded for mercy, but the forgiven servant would have none of it. He had his fellow servant throw in prison. But word got back to the king about this sad state of affairs. The king called in that unforgiving slave and lectured him about his hypocrisy. “You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ (Matt 18:32-33). In anger, the king ordered him to be tortured till he paid all of his debt. Jesus’ punch line of the parable re-iterates the earlier point about the conditionality of God’s extending forgiving grace to us: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (Matt 18:35).

What actually prompted Jesus to teach this parable was Peter’s question about how many times should we keep forgiving an erring brother or sister (Matt 18:21).  Peter thought he was magnanimous by suggesting “up to seven times” as the act of grace.   But Jesus extended that much further, “up to seventy times seven!”—keep on forgiving without any limit.

But how do we know we have really forgiven another person?

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Dr. Klaus Issler