Out of all the things Jesus could have included when teaching his disciples how to pray, one of them was “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Yet, I admit I don’t pray that part of the Lord’s prayer as often as I should. And I would say I probably actively forgive those who have trespassed against me even less. Asking and granting forgiveness is a lost art in our culture today. However, especially among Christians, this shouldn’t be.
Our forgiveness of one another on a human level is rooted in the forgiveness we have received from God. We forgive others because we are forgiven. That was the entire point of the parable Jesus told of the king who forgave his servant a debt of 10,000 talents. In that parable, a servant was brought before his king who owed him the equivalent of billions of dollars. In short, it was a debt that he, a lowly slave, could in no way repay, not in a thousand lifetimes. The king decides to sell him, his wife, and his children. In a desperate last attempt, the servant begs for mercy. “Out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt” (Matthew 18:27). Don’t pass that by too quickly. The king just forgave a billion dollar debt “out of pity.”
I don’t think I would be spoiling the ending too much to pause right here and point out that God’s the king, and we’re the servant. Every last one of us has an incalculable, unrepayable debt against the God of the universe. We’ve spit in the Holy One’s face by blatantly rebelling against his righteous laws. Everyone has turned his own way. No one seeks after God like he ought. And yet, God forgives sinners. Through Jesus’ work on the cross, hopelessly indebted rebels can find complete pardon (read more about that here).
Back to the parable: So the servant leaves his master’s presence, fully forgiven his debt, and who do you think he bumps into? A fellow servant who owes him a hundred denarii. One denarius was the equivalent to one day’s wages of a common worker. That is, this man owed the servant a hundred day’s wages. This is no small amount. How much do you make in 100 days? For a person who earns $10.00 an hour and works eight hours a day, we’re talking about $8,000. This is no small amount. This is a sizable debt that, if someone owed that much to me, I’d want repaid like yesterday.
Upon seeing the man who owed him eight grand, the servant demanded that he repay his debt. This guy, too, begged for mercy, and the servant refused. In fact, he threw the guy in jail until he should repay the amount.
Well, word spread quickly of the servant’s actions, and the king ended up hearing about it. The king called the servant before him and reprimanded him for not forgiving his fellow servant as the king had forgiven him. Remember, the point is not that the servant wouldn’t forgive the man a small amount when the king had forgiven him such a large amount. Eight thousand dollars is a large amount! The other guy was in serious financial straits here due to his debt. The point of this parable is found in the comparison between the two amounts. The king forgave the servant a nearly incalculable debt that the servant could never repay even if he wanted. This other guy, on the other hand, while he did owe a substantial amount, perhaps could have actually repaid the servant in time.
The point of the parable? We forgive others their very serious trespasses against us because God has forgiven us our infinite trespass against him. Our forgiveness of others is rooted in God’s forgiveness of us. I don’t mean to make it sound like this is easy. Eight thousand dollars is a lot of money! If you need some help in forgiving others, spend some time thinking over the extent of the debt that has been forgiven you. Though the person who wronged you may have really hurt you deeply, God has forgiven you wrongs that you’ve done against him that are infinitely more grievous. And as children of our Father, we should look and act like him.
In these past few weeks, I’ve repented of (that is, I’ve turned away from) some very specific sins in my life and have actively sought God’s forgiveness for those things. Then I’ve basked in the glory to know that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). I’ve accepted the forgiveness that he so freely grants. In light of that, it’s been easier to offer grace to those who have done to me what I consider to be serious wrong. It’s not that the other person hasn’t serious hurt me. It’s simply that in light of the infinite debt that I’ve been forgiven, somehow I’m less inclined to demand full repayment of lesser debts from others.
Living this way is incredibly liberating. It will liberate you from pride, from bitterness, and from a desire for revenge. It destroys barriers that we’ve built between ourselves and other people. You see other people in a new light. You see them in the light of their need for compassion instead of in the light of their indebtedness to you. God forgives; therefore, I forgive.
Forgiveness is a beautiful art that I, many times, forget to practice. It’s certainly been lost in our society today. Nonetheless, isn’t that part of our calling as Christians—to be salt in a tasteless world? What transformation could you start in motion by forgiving others as you have been forgiven? And what more powerful testimony to the greatness of God’s grace could a lost person ask to see? Your forgiveness of others bears witness to the greatness of your God who has forgiven you. There is no God like our God, and your forgiveness of others is proof positive. Grace and peace to you as you forgive like you’ve been forgiven.