“Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how many times could my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ ‘I tell you, not as many as seven,’ Jesus said to him, ‘but seventy times seven. For this reason, the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began to settle accounts, one who owed ten thousand talents was brought before him. Since he had no way to pay him back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children and everything he had be sold to pay the debt.
At this, the slave fell facedown before him and said, ‘Be patient with me and I will pay you everything!’ Then the master of that slave had compassion, released him and forgave him his loan. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him one hundred denarii. He grabbed him, started choking him and said, ‘Pay what you owe!’ At this, his fellow slave fell down and began begging him, ‘Be patient with me and I will pay you back.’ But he wasn’t willing. On the contrary, he went and threw him into prison until he could pay what was owed. When the other slaves saw what had taken place, they were deeply distressed and went and reported to their master everything that had happened.
Then after he summoned him, his master said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you? And his master got angry and handed him over to the jailers until he could pay everything that was owed. So my heavenly Father will also do to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from his heart.”
Some of us need to feel forgiven but forgiveness is not validated through our emotions. Others of us need a public apology or an open display of remorse. We need to be convinced by visual or auditory evidence that the person regrets the action that has caused hurt or harm. But, depending on the offense, we may choose not forgive. We have reasoned that this is one time too many, evidence that the person is unwilling or unable to change. And while the relationship may be unhealthy and separation is needed, this is not cause to withhold forgiveness.
Forgiveness is described as “the renunciation or the cessation of resentment, indignation or anger as a result of a perceived offense (or) disagreement; to grant pardon for or remission of (e.g. offense, debt); to give up claim to requital for.” How can we then, for example, “not allow the sun to go down on our anger” if we choose not to forgive (Ephesians 4.27)? And how can we not forgive or limit the number of times that we will forgive when God accepts our apologies every single day? It must be said that our forgiveness is not like God’s forgiveness. We forgive today but remember tomorrow and the process of forgiveness and reconciliation begins again. We expect persons to repent for the same offense repeatedly until we are convinced, until we feel that they are sorry. It is because we don’t forgive from our heart but our head.
The question for me this morning is not how often should we forgive but how many times does one have to apologize for the same offense? And do we, like the master, want their kindred and the next generation to be punished for their offense as well? I suppose that I speak specifically of race when I ask this question as it generalizes the offense: All of you have done this. It is as if race excuses us from showing compassion and demonstrating mercy. What do we want persons to do, to give, to say that would satisfy this debt? How long is the repayment plan and do we even believe that they can pay it? If not, then why not simply forgive it?
It seems that we are no different from the slave in Jesus’ parable. We have been forgiven because God knew that it was a debt that we could not pay. We, though oppressed (and yes, we are all oppressed) oppress one another and are unable to forgive smaller debts. But, let me remind you of just a portion of the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray: “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6.12). There is no limit, no number of times that we should forgive and it doesn’t not matter whether they deserve it or if we feel like. We forgive because we have been forgiven.