In today’s gospel, Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother. In response, Jesus gives two answers that require us to contemplate. The first answer is a math problem. Jesus tells Peter that He should not only forgive his brother seven times, but seventy times seven. He then proceeds to tell a parable about a king and his servant who owed the king a very large sum of money. The servant had no way of paying the money back so the king ordered that he and his family be sold to repay the debt. The servant begged for mercy, and the king granted it, forgiving the whole debt. However, when the forgiven servant came upon another servant who owed him a debt much smaller and could not repay, the forgiven servant was unforgiving, refused to show mercy, and had him thrown into jail. When the king heard this, he was enraged. He reprimanded the previously forgiven servant and handed him over to be tortured until he paid back the debt.
In order for this Gospel to take root in our hearts, we must place ourselves in the shoes of two characters: Peter and the Unforgiving Servant. It is reasonable to assume that when Peter approaches Jesus, he asks his question out of frustration. We can all imagine a time when after countless second chances, we find ourselves having to let go of our pride and attempt to forgive someone after they hurt us yet again. Usually this is either someone very close to us (a spouse, parent, sibling, etc) or one of our ‘enemies.’ It seems Peter has found a similar situation. We must be careful not to look down on Peter in this instance. He has tried to forgive this person in the past it seems multiple times. In addition, the question posed to Jesus shows that he is trying, and looking for help. Jesus is happy to give it. In His answer, Jesus is not giving Peter an exact number. Rather, the symbolism behind the use of seven times seventy denotes perfect forgiveness or completely forgiving someone, no matter the offenses. This is how God forgives. To illustrate exactly what He means by this, Jesus then dives right into the parable.
The King is God who has forgiven us, through the suffering and death of Jesus, the debt of our sin which is eternal damnation. We who beg for mercy are generously given freedom by the sheer goodness of the King (God). However, we are then left with a choice. When others treat us unjustly, we can choose to forgive as we have been forgiven, or demand justice for how we have been wronged. We are given the opportunity to be like our God and show mercy, or to be like Satan, the accuser. In the case of the Unforgiving Servant, he accuses the other servant who owes him money and does not show mercy. He demands justice. So the King, in turn, says if it is justice that you want, it is justice that you will receive, and He hands over to the torturers until He pays the debt.
Sin causes accusations to be made. At the first sin with Adam and Eve, we see this happen immediately after their sin. Adam accuses Eve and God, and Eve accuses the serpent. In order to avoid the justice that we deserve for our sin, we often pass judgment on someone else. However, we cannot avoid our guilt. In the book of Revelation, we learn that Satan is accusing us before God day and night demanding our damnation which would be just. However, the servants of God have defeated Satan through the Blood of the Lamb that was Slain. As He sheds His blood on the cross, Jesus asks His Father to forgive us. It is a free gift offered to all people. But we do not just accept it with our words. We must accept it with our lives.
Accepting the Love and Mercy of God, means that we must show mercy to others. We must do this perfectly. We must not hold within our hearts accusations against those who have hurt us because the reality is that our sin creates a greater debt to God than anything anyone could do to us. If we find ourselves struggling to forgive, we must follow Jesus to the cross, ask for grace to have a heart like His, and partake in His Body and Blood which defeats the Accuser (Satan). If we do, we become like our God, and He lives in us and we in Him. But if we do not, we will be tortured until we pay back a debt that we cannot repay.