C. S. Lewis once wrote that “everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have someone to forgive.” How can you get the strength to forgive someone? Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18:23-35 holds the key.
Jesus’ disciples would have been startled by the amount the servant owed the king. The amount Jesus cites is equivalent to about $7 billion US today! There is no hope for the servant to repay the debt. And yet the master chooses to forgive this huge debt. Later the servant refuses to forgive a fellow servant who owes him about $12,000 US. On its own, this is not a small amount; however, compared to the $7 billion that had just been forgiven, it is a drop in a very large bucket.
Forgiveness can be a unilateral act, one person deciding to forgive regardless of the actions or response of the other. Jesus showed us as much on the cross. The power to forgive others is rooted in remembering just how much you’ve been forgiven by God because of Jesus’ work on the cross. The fact is that we each have a bigger debt before God than anyone else has before us.
Forgiveness is not tolerance of the sin. Just prior to this parable, Jesus spells out how to confront someone directly and graciously when they have sinned against you to the extent it requires a conversation with them. Forgiveness is also not necessarily reconciliation, which takes commitment from both people involved in a conflict. Forgiveness might pave the way for reconciliation, but reconciliation is its own process.
Forgiveness can happen in a moment of time, or it can be a journey over time. This parable shows us that forgiven people are called to forgive others. You will never be able to pay God back for all He has forgiven you by Jesus’ work on the cross; but you will have many chances to pay forward that forgiveness in this world.
You can choose now, with God’s help, to forgive others because God has forgiven you in Christ.
Prayer: Confess any sins you have committed to God. Ask for His forgiveness. Then pray, “Lord, help me to forgive anyone who has sinned against me because You have forgiven me so much. Free me from anger or bitterness towards anyone. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.”