Thursday, January 27, 2011

Forgive Us Our Trespasses

DAY 27

Morning Reading - Exodus 13-15
Evening Reading - Matthew 19:1-15

Yesterday we read Matthew 18, which is identified by most scholars as the fourth major teaching discourse of Jesus in Matthew's gospel. The first three teaching discourses were the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), the Teaching about Mission (Matthew 10), the Teaching about Parables (Matthew 13). This fourth teaching discourse focuses on the life of the Christian community, specifically the issue of forgiveness.

Peter addresses Jesus and asks, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?" Peter thinks he is being quite generous by offering to forgive seven times, which far exceeds the expected three times with Judaism. Jesus responds by calling his disciples to forgive not simply seven times, but seventy times seven. (Some manuscripts say seventy seven times, but in either case the figure is exponentially higher than the prevailing social and cultural expectations.)

To further emphasize the importance of forgiveness, Jesus tells a parable in which he compares the kingdom of heaven to a King who mercifully forgives one his servants. We are told that this particular servant owes the King ten thousand talents. (One talent equalled approximately twenty years' wages for an average laborer, so a person would need to work 200,000 years to earn ten thousand talents.) Obviously, Jesus is using hyperbole to make an important theological point: just as the servant's debt far exceeds his ability to pay, in the same way our debt of sin is so great, that only by God's mercy are we forgiven and set free. After this servant is forgiven his debt, he goes out and finds a fellow servant who owes him one hundred denarii. (A denarius equalled approximately one day's wages for a laborer, so the debt of this fellow servant is insignificant compared to the ten thousand talents owed by the first servant.) Jesus is teaching his disciples that God's forgiveness and mercy is so great, that our refusal to forgive others is an affront to God. If God has freely forgiven us so great a debt, how can we refuse to forgive those who have trespassed against us? This teaching parallels the words of the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6, "forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors."

The picture I have included with this post depicts members of the Amish community in southeastern Pennsylvania after the shooting at local school house in 2006. In the midst of tragedy and despair, this community was able to express profound forgiveness and mercy. They did not deny their anger or grief, but they knew that forgiveness was the only path to healing and wholeness.

As we continue to read the New Testament, the theme of forgiveness will continual, so I will lilkely post addiitional reflections and comments regarding this topic in the future.


  1. I laughed yesterday as I read this section. I believe I am at 71 times 7 but I just keep trying. I love the pictue of Forgivenall!

  2. Thanks for the reflections. Forgiveness is definitely a process. I think Jesus asks us to keep our hearts continually open, because only his love transforms us an enables us to forgive others as he has forgiven us. It is not something we are able to do in our own strength, but only by grace.

  3. This passage means much more to me with your explanation of the wages/per day and ability to pay back. I'm awestruck.

  4. Sometimes I wonder what forgiveness looks like and sounds like. For example, victims on Oprah will say that they have "forgiven" the person/people that have wronged them...but what exactly does that mean? I wonder what the process of forgiveness looks like...or if it's spoken what it sounds like. Anyone can say they forgive, but I really think there is some sort of visable action...or can it be as simple as a thought process? Can you forgive someone and know you can never trust them? I feel like if you really think you can no longer trust a person that true forgiveness hasn't occured. Then I think of that phrase after a wrong doing--one time shame on you, two times, shame on me. Am I making any sense? Can forgiveness be as easy as "letting it go?"

    PS-Can you tell I'm a little behind on my readings?

  5. Laura...thanks for your reflections. Forgiveness is a process of releasing our feelings of anger, resentment, and judgment against the person who has wronged us. Forgiving another person may not mean that we can trust them again, because that would require a change on that person's part. If the other person is willing to make changes in their behavior, then there is the possilbity of reconciliation and the restoration of trust within the relationship. But all this begins with our willingness to forgive. It is not easy. In fact, true forgiveness is a gift of God's grace. There are certainly stages of forgiveness. We usually begin by simply knowing that we need to forgive ("I need to forgive"). Then there is forgiveness from the will ("I choose to forgive"). Then comes a desire to forgive ("I want to forgive"). Ultimately, we come to a place where, with God's grace, we are able to completely release the offender from our sense of judgement, anger and resentment. When that happens, we are ones set free and empowered. There is so much more to say about forgiveness...but I'll stop for now.

  6. Forgivness in a nutshell!! Thank you so much for explaining the four stages and the statement: Ture forgiveness is a gift of God's grace.

    Your time on this blog and encouragement reading through the Bible in a year is VERY much appreciated!

  7. You are very welcome...I really enjoy reading and reflecting on God's word. It is even more fun when we get to have dialogue with one another about important topics (like forgiveness!).