21Then 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?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. 23For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25and, 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. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28But 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.’ 29Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Reading Scripture to Know:
- What is happening/being said? (Observation)
- Why is this happening/being said? (Interpretation)
- What does the rest of Scripture say about it? (Evaluation)
- What does it mean? (Understanding)
- What does it mean for us? (Application)
Reading Scripture to Grow:
- What words or phrases stand out to you? Why?
- Where do you hear the voice of God in this Scripture?
- How do you see the character of God reflected in this Scripture?
- How does this Scripture reveal God?
- How does this Scripture expose humanity and its need for God?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in your life?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in our world?
- What might God want to communicate to you (us) this week through this Scripture?
Scripture Reads Me:
- This passage makes me feel…
- This passage makes me think about…
- This passage reminds me of…
- This passage teaches me that God is…
- This passages teaches me that I am…
- This passage challenges me to…
Reflection: 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.”
I love the statue in the image above. It is a representation of the father embracing the prodigal son upon the son’s return home. The son kneels before the father in shameful agony and yet the father responds in merciful love. Look at the father’s face. His smile, accompanied by the overwhelming sense of relief and peace, speak over his son: “No longer feel your shame, for your guilt has been forgiven and you are in the presence of love.” In the presence of love there is no room for shame; in the presence of mercy, guilt is dismissed.
Now guilt and shame are not the same as one another. Guilt is our natural reaction to our actions that have been wrong, hurtful, or trust-breaking. Guilt demands forgiveness. Shame is the unhealthy, soul-stealing reaction to guilt that can prevent us from seeking forgiveness. Shame shifts the “wrongness” onto our own person, deflecting it from our actions. However, if we feel as if we have not secured forgiveness for our actions, we can often be left with increasing shame. It becomes a vicious cycle – shame prevents us from seeking and finding forgiveness and that lack of forgiveness increases our shame, which then blocks more forcefully our search for forgiveness.
God’s desire is to dismiss our guilt through mercy, which then disarms shame and allows us to see ourselves for who we truly are – God’s children created for good works (see Ephesians 2:10). The smile of love and the hands of gentle grace demonstrated in the statue of the father and prodigal reflect the image of God for all of us who deal with both guilt and shame. That image, once we have received mercy and forgiveness, is to be reflected back, through us, into the world.
If we refuse to forgive others, we risk increasing their shame. Though God forgives them, they might not be able to see and experience God’s forgiveness if we demand that they stayed enslaved to guilt and shame through our lack of mercy. This is why it is so important for Jesus to teach us, through Peter, to forgive one another. The image of God Jesus gives in the parables, in the Beatitudes, and in his actions upon the cross, is an image of forgiveness without end or qualification. If we do not bear the same, we become a false image of God and we threaten to obscure the light of God in a dark world.
Who are we to hold on to the guilt of our brothers and sisters if God has released them? Who are we to increase someone’s shame when God despises that very tool of evil? Even if our brother’s or sister’s guilt inconveniences us, to the point of having to deal with their misdeeds every 19 minutes (that would be 77 times a day!), we are called to give the same face and embrace that God would reserve for them. So, now picture yourself in the statue above. First, put your face on the father and the face of someone who has wronged you on the prodigal. What would it take you to forgive that person, to realize this picture of mercy in your own life? Now switch the faces in your mind. You become the one kneeling for forgiveness and embraced by one whom you have wronged. How does their forgiveness change you? Guilt and shame have no power in the kingdom of God – and you, dear one, are a child of that kingdom!
Prayer Focus: And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would 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.
These are some of the most challenging words of the New Testament. As you pray this week, ask God to search your heart and reveal to you if you are holding on to any grudges, refusing to forgive someone. Ask God to reveal to you what it means to forgive that person. Even if there is no one from whom you are withholding forgiveness, ask God to increase your capacity for mercy. Trust God to empower you to forgive yourself, also – for sometimes the ones against whom we hold the greatest grudges are our very selves.
Meditation Focus: Seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’
Society often functions within a framework of payback. If someone does something to me, I am entitled to do the same back to them. We focus on retribution and punishment at the expense of rehabilitation and renewal. This is not, however, how God functions. Read the following passages of Scripture and meditate over them this week. Repeat them over and again in your mind, letting their very words carry your mind to a deeper understanding of God’s grace. Hold them closely to your heart and allow them to take root within your soul.
- Exodus 34:6 – The LORD passed before Moses, and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
- Psalm 103:12 – As far as the east is from the west, so far the LORD removes our transgressions from us.
- Isaiah 38:17b – You [the LORD] have held back my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back.
- Micah 7:19 – He will again have compassion upon us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.
- Ephesians 1:7 – In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.
Journaling Focus: 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.
This is the most intriguing statement in this parable. The slave falls down and asks for more time to pay, and the lord instead forgives his debt completely. Yet, from the actions of the slave in the rest of the parable, it is clear that he misunderstands that he has been completely forgiven. He seems to believe that he has instead been granted his extension, and he goes around essentially collecting pocket change to pay back the national debt. It makes me wonder if Jesus is trying to tell us something about how humans misunderstand God’s absolute forgiveness. Take some time this week to reflect on God’s forgiveness of you as you ponder these questions:
- Why do you need forgiveness?
- What debts are you trying to pay back?
- What does God’s forgiveness look like?
- Why does God forgive?
- What should our reaction to God’s forgiveness be?
- Is God expecting anything in return – why or why not?
Forgive someone who has wronged you. Tell them that you have forgiven them. Or ask for forgiveness for a wrong for which you are responsible. Speak to God and the person wronged by you. Initiate this act of forgiveness, trusting God to anoint the process.
Breath Prayer: Father, grant us mercy and make us merciful.