10 March: Matthew 18.21-end

Then Peter came and said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’

As Christians we are committed to forgive those who sin against us but Jesus’s reply to Peter’s question in this passage makes the task even more daunting.

Lent is a time for contrition and forgiveness.

In a Lenten address Evelyn Underhill writes:

There is no lesson Christ loves better to drive home than this disconcerting fact of our common human fragility, which when we have truly grasped it, kills resentment and puts indulgent pity in its place. Let the man, the group, the nation that is without sin cast the first stone. God’s forgiveness means the compassionate recognition of the weakness and instability of man; how often we cannot help it, how truly there is in us a ‘root and ground of sin’, an implicit rebellion against the Holy, a tendency away from love and peace. And this require of us the constant compassionate recognition of our fellow creatures’ instability and weakness; if the Christian penitent dares to ask that his many departures from the Christian norm, his impatience, gloom, self-occupation, unloving prejudices, reckless tongue, feverish desires, with all the damage they have caused to Christ’s body, are indeed to be set aside, because – in spite of all – he longs for God and Eternal life, then, he too must set aside and forgive all that impatience, selfishness, bitter and foolish speech, others have caused him to endure. For every soul that appeals to God’s forgiveness is required to move over to this side, and share the compassionate understanding, the unmeasured pity, with which He looks on human frailty and sin.

So difficult is this to the proud and assertive creature, that it comes very near the end of our education in prayer. Indeed the Christian doctrine of forgiveness is so drastic and so difficult, where there is deep injury to forgive, that only those living in the Spirit, in union with the Cross, can dare to base their claim on it.

Rosamond Herklots expresses this well in her hymn (New English Hymnal 66):

Forgive our sins as we forgive,
you taught us, Lord, to pray,
but you alone can grant us grace
to live the words we say.

How can your pardon reach and bless
the unforgiving heart,
that broods on wrongs and will not let
old bitterness depart?

In blazing light the Cross reveals
the truth we dimly knew:
how small the debts men owe to us,
how great our debt to you!

Lord, cleanse the depths within our souls,
and bid resentment cease;
then, reconciled to God and man,
our lives will spread your peace.