Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times must I forgive the offenses of my brother or sister? Seven times?” Jesus answered, “No, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
This story throws light on the kingdom of Heaven: A king decided to settle accounts with his servants. Among the first of them was one who owed him ten thousand pieces of gold. As the man could not repay the debt, the king commanded that he be sold as a slave with his wife, his children and all his goods, as repayment.
The servant threw himself at the feet of the king and said, ‘Give me time, and I will pay you back everything.’ The king took pity on him, and not only set him free, but even canceled his debt.
When this servant left the king’s presence, he met one of his fellow servants, who owed him a hundred pieces of silver. He grabbed him by the throat and almost choked him, shouting, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ His fellow servant threw himself at his feet and begged him, ‘Give me time, and I will pay everything.’ But the other did not agree, and sent him to prison until he had paid all his debt.
Now the servants of the king saw what had happened. They were extremely upset, and so they went and reported everything to their lord. Then the lord summoned his servant and said, ‘Wicked servant, I forgave you all that you owed me when you begged me to do so. Weren’t you bound to have pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ The lord was now angry. He handed the wicked servant over to be punished, until he had paid the whole debt.”
Jesus added, “So will my heavenly Father do with you, unless you sincerely forgive your brothers and sisters.”
It is comforting for us, when we study the figure of Jesus, to note that he welcomes everybody and forgives every sin imaginable. Never at any time does he say to somebody: “I am very sorry, but this particular sin of yours is so grave that I cannot forgive it.” And that is indeed very reassuring for the sinners that we are.
However, there is an exception to Jesus’ willingness to forgive. And this is when he meets someone who will not forgive another person’s wrongdoing. That is the insurmountable obstacle which disconnects one from the divine circuit of forgiveness emanating from God. In other words, if I refuse to grant forgiveness to my neighbor who has wronged me, I cannot receive forgiveness from God whom I have wronged. Now why is this?
It is because God insists that we imitate him. He has forgiven us, our mountains of sins (and still forgives us every day that comes along), and so we should forgive our neighbor his or her small molehill of sins. “Weren’t you bound to have pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?” There is a divine circuit of forgiveness, and nothing must break it.
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