If we aren’t careful,
we can get a little lost
in the “math” of this story.
If we don’t watch it,
we might find ourselves crunching numbers
and calculating sums
instead of exploring the Kingdom.
This passage asks:
How many times do we forgive?
How big is our debt?
What does it mean to live in mercy?
Do we forgive 7 times?
Or is it,
as some translators note,
actually 70 x 7
which brings us to a grand total of 490?
And the King!
Our translation merely says,
the debt owed was a
but the Greek says, “myriad of talents.”
Myriad meant 10,000,
and a talent
was a weight measure of precious metal,
in this case, silver.
Scholars love to speculate
how much money this might be
in modern currency.
They twist themselves into numerical pretzels
the price of silver in the ancient world,
multiplying how many troy ounces in a talent,
by how many whatevers
are contained in a myriad
and figuring out just how much
this servant owed his master.
A single talent may have been as much as
20 years wages for a common laborer.
But, no matter how you calculate the numbers,
or set up the spreadsheet,
the debt is staggering.
Enough money to pay
200,000 years of a day laborer’s salary.
to take everyone in Cincinnati
to buy your favorite hockey team
and then add on your second favorite--
heck, just buy the whole league!
However you translate the Greek
and add up the ledger,
Jesus is talking about an
sum of money.
In fact, there is nothing
about this passage at all—
neither in Peter’s question
or in Jesus’ story.
Both offer us a vision of God’s Kingdom
that is as unsettling
as it is excessive.
Yet, the numbers are a red herring.
As staggering as the sums might be,
this story is not about economics
it’s about relationships.
It’s not about math,
it’s about mercy.
In this passage,
Jesus is upending,
transforming the ground rules
for how we interact with God
and each other.
We actually have a lot more in common
with the ancient Romans
than we realize.
Roman religion was practical,
Their relationship with the gods and goddesses
of their pantheon was transactional.
It was based on the principle
that if “I give this to you,
you might give that to me.”
I will play by the rules of the game,
and in return,
will allow me to move my marker
a few more squares around the board.
Although we don’t like admitting it,
we’re pretty comfortable
with that arrangement, too.
God will forgive me
if I do “X.”
If I pray this way,
God will respond that way.
If we are honest,
the image of a sacred gum ball machine
is pretty soothing.
We like knowing
how much we must give,
or in this case,
how many times we must forgive
and still remain in God’s good graces.
“How often must I forgive?
As many as seven times?”
When Jesus replies,
he doesn’t mean literally the number between
seventy-six and seventy-eight,
“Peter! Listen up!
You are asking the wrong question!”
The issue is not
when, where, and who to forgive—
the issue is this:
If we follow Jesus,
is part of the landscape.
in our lives and in our relationships.
In this parable of the King and the servant,
forgiveness is extravagant,
This is how God forgives.
It's not optional.
It is not a choice.
It is not reserved for those times we feel
particularly magnanimous or kind.
It’s all day.
But aren’t there unforgivable sins?
Crimes against children.
There are times
we must leave a relationship
or exit a situation
for our own protection
and the safety of those we love.
There are times we must protect the weak.
But forgiveness and legal liability
are different issues.
We can step outside of
dangerous situations and toxic relationships,
foster justice for victims
and accountability for criminals,
and at the same time
forgive the sin that triggered this action.
And this is hard.
It will be some of the hardest work we ever do.
It is easy to hold on to hatred.
Easy to demand retribution.
Easy to nurse anger
and fuel our pain.
It feels “righteous.”
It feels “just.”
It feels darn good.
At least at first.
that poison inevitably turns inward
and begins to destroy us.
I don’t pretend to have the answers
and I know from personal experience
that forgiveness is wrenching
It makes you look weak and foolish
in the eyes of the world.
It can even
make you question your own sanity.
But this I know—
when the disciples asked Jesus
to teach them to pray,
he taught them about forgiveness—
“For if you forgive others their trespasses,
your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”
When he hung on the cross
he used his dying breath
to teach Roman Centurions
and grieving disciples about forgiveness—
“Father forgive them,
for they know not what they do.”
And when Peter asked,
“How many times must we forgive?”
Jesus invited him into this story
in which forgiveness overflows.
Unlike many of his parables,
the point of this story
is clear and unmistakable.
It’s not the understanding that’s hard—
it’s the living out.
Because if we live long enough,
someone we love will hurt us.
Someone we trust will betray us.
We will make choices
that rupture friendships
and implode lives.
No matter what path we take,
we will eventually
walk in the shadows of old wounds
and carry the imprint of new scars.
There is no secret passageway,
no magic hall pass
that allows us to avoid this pain.
The Good News is
those scars and wounds won’t define us.
get the last word.
The Good News is
forgiveness lies at the heart
of our relationship with God
and God’s forgiveness is
"myriad of talents."
That same forgiveness lies at the heart
of our relationship with the Church
and with each other.
70 x 7,
as many times as it takes,
whatever it takes,
wherever it takes us--
our response to God’s mercy
must overflow as well.
Our encounter with Christ
is an invitation to a new way
of seeing and being.
In this new life,
we don’t receive what we deserve,
like the servant of the King in this parable,
a shockingly generous gift—
the forgiveness of our debt that cannot be
or entered into a ledger
because that sum,
like the abundance of God’s love,
too large to count.