How Much Does God’s Forgiveness Mean To You?

We all need forgiveness. In one way or another by someone somewhere at some time, we need to be forgiven.  None of us lives the way we ought to live every day in every way.  We all need to be forgiven, yet we all struggle to forgive.  Why is that?  With forgiveness such a basic human necessity, you would think there would be plenty of forgiveness to go around. 

Jesus shares a parable that speaks to this struggle with forgiveness when Peter asks him, “’How often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’” (Matthew 18:21).  The parable speaks of a servant who owed a master ten thousand talents.  Now at that time a talent was roughly equivalent to twenty years wages. In other words, the servant owed the master two hundred thousand hours of work!  The servant owed the master an impossible sum of money.  So, “the master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.  So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’  And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt” (18:25-27). 

The servant experiences forgiveness beyond what he deserved or could have hoped to receive.  If only the parable ended there.  This forgiven servant then runs into “his fellow servant who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe’” (18:28).  Now a denarius was worth about a day’s wage.  So this fellow-servant owed only a fraction of what the forgiven servant had owed the master.  This fellow-servant cries out, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you” (18:29

How does the forgiven servant respond to his fellow servant’s plea for patience? He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt” (18:30).  The forgiven servant now becomes the unforgiving servant! Is the problem here the lack of forgiveness? The lack of forgiveness is not the problem, but the symptom of the problem.  The lack of forgiveness results from the master’s forgiveness not having any affect on the heart of the servant who owed ten thousand talents.  The master’s forgiveness should have melted the hard heart of this unforgiving servant.  But the master’s forgiveness meant nothing to the unforgiving servant.  The debt the master canceled appears to the servant as just a financial transaction.  Instead of a changed heart, the unforgiving servant merely went home and changed his personal budget.  The unforgiving servant merely changes his bill from “owe” to “paid.” 

The master hears of this news and calls this unforgiving servant to account. “’You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’  And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt” (18:32-34).  Then come these haunting words from Jesus, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (18:35).

If I struggle to forgive, then that is one sign that God’s forgiveness towards me does not mean much to me.  As a Christian I should be overflowing with forgiveness toward others because my Master has forgiven me a ten thousand plus-and-counting talent of sin!  My unforgiving hard heart ought to be melted with mercy overflowing towards those who sin against me. My problem is not that I do not forgive others, my problem is not permitting God’s forgiveness to fully melt my hard heart. So now I leave you with this question: How much does God’s forgiveness mean to you?

–Terry