Forgiveness: The Feast of God and His People

Jijo Kandamkulathy, CMF

Claretian Publications, Macau


Mt 18:21-35

The question that opens today’s Gospel, “How many times must I forgive the offenses of my brother or sister? Seven times?” reveals that Peter already knows that Jesus intends to go beyond the limits set by the scribes. He certainly remembers what has been said in the Sermon on the Mount, “If you are about to offer your gift at the altar, and you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift in front of the altar, go at once and make peace with your brother and then come back and offer your gift to God” (Mt 5:23-24), and “If you forgive others their wrongdoings, our Father in heaven will also forgive yours. If you do not forgive others…” (Mt 6:14-15). He also presents another unequivocal statement of the Master, “If your brother offends you seven times in one day, but seven times he says to you, ‘I’m sorry,’ forgive him” (Lk 17:3-4).

The answer of Jesus goes beyond what already scares Peter, “No, not seven times (that is always) but seventy times seven (even more than always).” To clarify His thoughts, He tells a parable.

A debtor who owed ten thousand talents was presented to the king. A talent is about thirty-six kilograms of gold; its value multiplied by ten thousand—the most elevated figure in the Greek language—amounts to a huge sum that corresponds to the salary of 200,000 years of work—2,400,000 payrolls. It’s unthinkable that someone could repay such an amount.

Showing a generosity without limits, the master of the parable, who represents God, touched by the plight of his servant, condones all the debt. There’s no sin that God cannot forgive; there is no fault superior to His immense love.

In the second part of the story, another servant who owes the first a hundred denarii enters. It is a considerable sum, equivalent to 100 working days, but paltry compared with that condoned by the king.

The second debtor uses the same prayer to his colleague, hoping to get the same compassion. The merciless servant, however, grabs him by the neck and begins to choke him, saying: “Give me what you owe!”

The central message of the parable is to be sought, obviously, in the huge disproportion between the two debts, and in the stark contrast between the behavior of God, who always forgives, and that of the man, who refuses to forgive. The image of suffocation gives a good idea of the psychological subjection to which the one who did wrong is reduced.

With the parable, Jesus is interested in highlighting the enormous distance that exists between God’s heart and the human heart, between His love and ours.

We ask the Father to “forgive our debt” in prayer. What does God expect from us? His very own “compassion”: He wants that we do not keep the brother/sister a slave of their past. He claims that we do not take their breath away while they desperately try to rise up from the chasm. God asks us to help them seventy times seven, renouncing any recourse against them. They understood that “love does not delight in wrong, excuses everything, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:5-7). Whoever has accepted this new logic is willing to lose, to forget all their own rights just to see again their brother/sister happy, peaceful and free from their sin.

Indebted to Fr. Fernando Armellini SCJ