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Peter: 21 Lord, when someone has sinned against me, how many times ought I forgive him? Once? Twice? As many as seven times?

Jesus: 22 You must forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven.

The response of Jesus is like the story of Lamech in Genesis. He was Adam and Eve’s great-great-great-great-grandson who had two wives. One day he said to his wives, “Wives of Lamech, I need to tell you something! I killed a man who struck me. Surely Lamech must be avenged seventy-seven times” (Genesis 4:23–24). In this new Kingdom of forgiveness, we reverse and invert Lamech’s plan. As Christians, we should forgive others’ transgressions more readily than the world would avenge them.

Jesus: 23 If you want to understand the kingdom of heaven, think about a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 Just as the king began to get his accounts in order, his assistants called his attention to a slave who owed a huge sum to him—what a laborer might make in 500 lifetimes.[a] 25 The slave, maybe an embezzler, had no way to make restitution, so the king ordered that he, his wife, their children, and everything the family owned be sold on the auction block; the proceeds from the slave sale would go toward paying back the king. 26 Upon hearing this judgment, the slave fell down, prostrated himself before the king, and begged for mercy: “Have mercy on me, and I will somehow pay you everything.” 27 The king was moved by the pathos of the situation, so indeed he took pity on the servant, told him to stand up, and then forgave the debt.

28 But the slave went and found a friend, another slave, who owed him about a hundred days’ wages.[b] “Pay me back that money,” shouted the slave, throttling his friend and shaking him with threats and violence. 29 The slave’s friend fell down prostrate and begged for mercy: “Have mercy on me, and I will somehow pay you everything.” 30 But the first slave cackled and was hard-hearted and refused to hear his friend’s plea. He found a magistrate and had his friend thrown into prison “where,” he said, “you will sit until you can pay me back.” 31 The other servants saw what was going on. They were upset, so they went to the king and told him everything that had happened.

32 The king summoned the slave, the one who had owed so much money, the one whose debt the king had forgiven. The king was livid. “You slovenly scum,” he said, seething with anger. “You begged me to forgive your debt, and I did. 33 What would be the faithful response to such latitude and generosity? Surely you should have shown the same charity to a friend who was in your debt.”

34 The king turned over the unmerciful slave to his brigade of torturers, and they had their way with him until he should pay his whole debt. 35 And that is what My Father in heaven will do to you, unless you forgive each of your brothers and each of your sisters from the very cockles of your heart.

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  1. 18:24 Literally, 10,000 talents
  2. 18:28 Literally, denarii, Roman coins

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often (A)will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? (B)As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished (C)to settle accounts with his servants.[a] 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him (D)ten thousand (E)talents.[b] 25 (F)And since he could not pay, his master ordered him (G)to be sold, with his wife and (H)children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant[c] (I)fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and (J)forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred (K)denarii,[d] and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 (L)And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 (M)And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers,[e] (N)until he should pay all his debt. 35 (O)So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother (P)from your heart.”

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  1. Matthew 18:23 Or bondservants; also verses 28, 31
  2. Matthew 18:24 A talent was a monetary unit worth about twenty years' wages for a laborer
  3. Matthew 18:26 Or bondservant; also verses 27, 28, 29, 32, 33
  4. Matthew 18:28 A denarius was a day's wage for a laborer
  5. Matthew 18:34 Greek torturers