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The personal debt crisis (2)

Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to bring to an end his accounts with his bonded workers. When he began to bring them to an end, one was brought to him who owed him 200,000 times his annual wage. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the bonded worker fell on his knees, pleading to him, ‘Have patience with me, and I shall pay you everything.’ And feeling so sad for him, the master of that bonded worker set him free and forgave him the debt. But when that same bonded worker went out, he found one of his fellow bonded workers who owed him two days wages, and grabbing hold of him, he choked him, saying, ‘Pay everything you owe.’ So his fellow bonded worker fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow bonded workers saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow bonded worker, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master gave him over to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.” Matthew 18: 21-30
Conflict is everywhere in our lives. Forgiveness is something which is really not of this world. Last week I asked you to think with me about a parallel which Jesus gave to his disciples who wanted to limit the number of times that they were required to forgive others.

The parallel is in bold above.
Conflict and forgiveness are irrevocably attached to one another. But, while conflict is a certainty, forgiveness is by no means certain.


‘If you are suffering from a bad man’s injustice, forgive him lest there be two bad men.’ (Augustine of Hippo, Philosopher and Theologian, 354-430)
What percentage of conflicts in our world today are resolved by forgiveness? Is it 50%? Or are only 10% of conflicts settled with forgiveness? Or is it even less – maybe 1%.

This week there are two key issues. When and why.

First, when must I forgive others? Is it when they claim they don’t owe anything? Neither the first nor the second bonded servant denied their debts. They owned up to them. Both sought for mercy.

Mercy is not for those who deny their need for forgiveness. Forgiveness is for those who confess, who admit their wrong.

Second, why must I forgive others? Is it because they somehow deserve to be forgiven? Is it because they’ll be useful to me later? Neither the first nor the second bonded servant deserved forgiveness. The first one was not only forgiven but also set free from his bonded worker status. The king, his master, gained nothing from him – and expected to gain even less by setting him free.

The first bonded servant who has himself been forgiven the equivalent of 200,000 years’ wages was condemned because, having been forgiven himself, he refused to forgive his colleague.

The fact that he had been forgiven so much was the reason why he, in turn as it were, must forgive others. 77 times each person.


‘I say to the glory of God and in utter humility that whenever I see myself before God and realise even something of what my blessed Lord has done for me, I am ready to forgive anybody anything.’ (D Martyn Lloyd Jones, preacher and writer, 1899-1981)
What did the king do to the unforgiving bonded worker? To the one who refused to show mercy despite having been shown mercy?

The debt of 200,000 years wages was reinstated.

Matthew records that Jesus added these words. “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Is that worth thinking about?

Richard Syvret

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