“His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.
“When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.
“That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.” (Matthew 18:29-35)
As he did many times, Jesus responded with a parable to teach a spiritual truth. Having already taught them the proper path of reconciliation (Matthew 18:15-18), Jesus used a story to drive the truth home. The rabbis taught that people should forgive those who offend them—but only three times. Peter, trying to be especially generous, asked Jesus if seven (the “perfect” number) was enough times to forgive someone. But Jesus answered, “Seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22), meaning that we shouldn’t even keep track of how many times we forgive someone.
This passage hits us where we live. If we’re honest, we think repeat offenders aren’t deserving of forgiveness, because they haven’t “earned” it. The fact that they keep on hurting us proves it, right? Yet have we “earned” God’s forgiveness? No! Because God has forgiven all our sins, we should not withhold forgiveness from others. Realizing how completely Jesus has forgiven us can produce a free and generous attitude of forgiveness toward others. We should always forgive those who are truly repentant, no matter how many times they ask. When we don’t forgive others, we are setting ourselves outside and above Christ’s law of love.
Forgiveness isn’t always easy, but it doesn’t have to be manufactured. When you find it especially impossible to forgive, go to God. Ask him to help you freely forgive from the heart—his heart.