There was a man, named Ronald who loved dogs. He served as a speaker in various civic clubs to benefit the SPCA. He was known far and wide as a dog lover. One day his neighbor observed as he poured a new sidewalk from his house out to the street. About the time he smoothed out the last square foot of cement a large dog strayed across his sidewalk leaving footprints in his wake. Ronald muttered something under his breath and smoothed out the footprints. He went inside to get some twine to string up around the sidewalk and came back outside only to discover dog tracks in two directions on his new sidewalk. He smoothed those out and put up the twine. About five minutes later he looked out and the footprints indicated that the dog had cleared the fence, landed on his sidewalk and simply walked over the wet walk as he desired. Ronald was mad now. He troweled the wet concrete smooth again. As he got back to the porch he saw the dog come over and sit right in the middle of his sidewalk. He went inside got his gun and came out and shot the dog dead. The neighbor rushed over, “Why did you do that?” he inquired, “I thought you loved dogs.” Ronald looked at his neighbor and replied, “I do, I do like dogs; I love dogs! I love them in the abstract, not in the concrete.”
I think forgiveness for us is somewhat the same thing. We love the idea of forgiveness. We think forgiveness is very important. It is just difficult when it comes to actually putting it into practice. Peter says to Jesus, “How many times should I forgive someone who sins against me? Should I do it seven times?” In those days Scribal law was clear. One was supposed to forgive a person who sinned against you up to three times, after that-no more forgiving! Now Peter knew that Jesus had a higher standard so Peter went all the way up to 7 and he thought that was pretty good. I am sure the reply Jesus gave him surprised him very much. This is why Jesus then gave the parable in order to explain his answer.
The story is one of the most memorable ones that Jesus tells. We are told in the story that the man is in debt to the king for 10,000 talents. The Greek word Murias literally means 10,000. However, murias is the largest numerical term in classical Greek so it also can mean a vast uncountable number, in fact, we get our word myriad from it. In our day’s money the amount would be in the billions. So the debt of 10,000 talents for a single man was an incalculable, unpayable debt. He simply could not live long enough to earn or even steal that much money. So when he is called to settle accounts with the king there is no way he could ever have paid. Jesus’ listeners would have realized this right away. The king therefore was going to sell the man as a slave, sell the man’s wife and children as slaves and all his possessions. Now he would not get10,000 talents for them, but he would receive something, some money and something is better than nothing. But then the man falls to his knees and begs the king for mercy. He tells him to have patience and I will repay everything. Words, these were simply words, he could no more pay back the king 10,000 talents than he could fly. But the king has pity on him and we are told that he releases him and forgives the debt. He tells him that he does not have to pay him back.
But the story goes on—this same fellow who had been in so much debt now meets up with a fellow slave. This slave owes him money, 100 denarii. For us in our day and age, the debt in would be about $12,000. This is not pocket change is it? If I owe $12,000 it is not a tiny amount but it is certainly something that can be repaid, after all, practically today everyone who buys a new car owes more than that, right? So the debt is real, but it is something that can realistically repaid. Slave number one grabs slave number 2 by the throat and tells him to pay him back and pay him back now. Slave two answers him exactly how he had answered the king, “Have patience and I will repay you.” But slave one has slave two thrown into prison until he would pay the debt. In those days, this was what would happen and for the fellow to get out of prison basically his family would have to borrow from someone else to pay debt number one off. Of course, now they are in debt again plus a little more but that is the way it worked in that society.
Anyway, we know the rest of the story. The king finds out about this episode and gets very angry. He calls slave one back reinstates the former debt, and then throws him in prison and gives him over to be tortured until he could pay back his unpayable debt.
The point Jesus is making is that we have been forgiven a debt by God we could not have ever possibly repaid. Most of us, however, do not really think too much about our sins about our debt, do we? I mean, when is the last time you sat around and thought about all the sins, or bad things you have done or things you really should have done and then thought about whether or not you could ever make it up to God? We, as humans, tend to minimize our sins, our wrong doings don’t we? We have all kinds of excuses for why we did not do what we ought to have done or why we did what we did. We think, “I was feeling bad that day that’s why I didn’t do such and such. Or I got up on the wrong side of bed this morning, that is why I am being grumpy (i.e. rude) to those around me today.” And then we think that God will understand. And we know God will forgive. And indeed God does. But, but (and this is the main point of the story) God expects us to be like he is. He expects us to understand when others wrong us and when others fail to do what they ought to have done. He expects us to forgive others when they have sinned against us.
See, this is what I meant about forgiveness being great in the abstract but not so easy in the concrete. William Willimon once wrote: “The human animal is not supposed to be good at forgiveness. Forgiveness is not some innate, natural human emotion. Vengeance, retribution, violence, these are natural human qualities. It is natural for the human animal to defend itself, to snarl and crouch into a defensive position when attacked, to howl when wronged, to bite back when bitten. Forgiveness is not natural. It is not a universal human virtue.”
Forgiveness is tough. Jesus tells Peter to forgive not just 7 times but 70 x 7 times. The reason is because we can keep track of 7 times and God does not want us to keep a tally of all the wrongs committed against us. That’s why the 70 times 7. We will lose track; we are supposed to lose track and that’s the point. Just like God keeps forgiving us day after day and week after week, we need to keep forgiving those who sin against us.
In Egypt the Coptic Christians have been persecuted minority for over a 1000 years. Earlier this year in Cairo, Egypt a peculiar event happened on their national television. There were 12 seconds of silence. Twelve seconds of silence is an awkward eternity on television. Amr Adeeb, perhaps the most prominent talk show host in Egypt, leaned forward as he searched for a response.“The Coptic Christians of Egypt … are made of … steel!” he finally uttered.
Moments earlier, Adeeb was watching a colleague in a simple home in Alexandria speak with the widow of Naseem Faheem, the guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in the seaside Mediterranean city. On Palm Sunday, the guard had redirected a suicide bomber through the perimeter metal detector, where the terrorist detonated. Likely the first to die in the blast, Faheem saved the lives of dozens inside the church. “I’m not angry at the one who did this,” said his wife, children by her side. “I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.’ “
Stunned, Adeeb stammered about Copts bearing atrocities over hundreds of years, but couldn’t escape the central point. “How great is this forgiveness you have!” his voice cracked. “If it were my father, I could never say this. But this is their faith and religious conviction.” Millions marveled with him across the airwaves of Egypt.
Forgiveness is not easy and sometimes it is impossible unless God helps us. But as followers of Jesus it is what we are called to do. We need to work at it; we need to keep our hearts clear and clean of resentment against others. In so doing we are being true followers of our Lord Jesus Christ.