Updated: Sep 1, 2018
Peter approached Jesus and asked him, "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.' Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, 'Pay back what you owe.' Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' But he refused. Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison until he paid back the debt. Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?' Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart."
When Jesus finished these words, he left Galilee and went to the district of Judea across the Jordan.
Sometimes the Gospel strikes like a lightning bolt. Could Jesus be any clearer? If there is anybody out there whom you have not forgiven, this passage unmistakably invites you to reconsider. Some of His teachings are subtle and soft, but here Jesus leaves hardly any room for interpretation: whatever you have suffered by others, be it the gravest injustice or the starkest pain, is small in comparison to what He has forgiven.
More than a mere nudge to be merciful, Christ offers us a hint of how this mercy can grow in our hearts, of how to “forgive from all your heart.” As a matter of fact, forgiveness is immensely difficult. And the greater the Ill we have suffered, the harder it is. Only he who has received forgiveness will muster the inner nobility to forgive from his heart.
When Peter approached the Lord and asked about forgiveness, Jesus did not simply respond with the second part of the parable and the ungrateful behavior of the merciless servant, but He put it into the context of the first part. Before considering the forgiveness we grant, we must always recall the forgiveness we have received. This is the order for us sinners to learn mercy. And this is why, in some cases, we are unable to be merciful: because we forget about our own need to be forgiven.
Finally, this order does not depend on proportions. Mercy is not measured on a balance scale. A true experience of mercy can be made from a relatively small guilt; and a gigantic debt, like the one of the servant in the Gospel, though forgiven, can leave the heart cold. If we, thus, must “forgive those who trespass against us,” we can find the strength for this in our smallest experience of mercy. For mercy, be it the fruit of small or large ills, is always a source for new life.