“Unless you each forgive…..from your heart” MT.18:35
We are all aware of the scriptural link with the seven-day story of creation. When I was teaching, I always compared the first seven-day myth in Chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis to the second account that completes the second Chapter. It has long since been acknowledged that these two accounts came from differing sources. This for me was supported when through recent reading I discovered there was reference to the seven day period in the Epic of Gilgamesh dating one thousand years earlier.
Theologically the two periods of seven for the creation can be better interpreted as an expression that there is no moment of time in which God is not concerned with creation for by nature the period of seven days served as a symbol of totality. Biblical scholars would cite the opening of the Book of the Apocalypse as reinforcement of this; saying that the inclusion of letters to seven churches represents the vision as being for the whole Church!
So then, Peter was not so far from the point when he suggested forgiving a sin seven times, in his way he says something deeply profound about always forgiving!
Why then did Jesus counter with the phrase, “not seven times, I tell you, but seventy-seven times” or in some translations “seventy times seven?” So, we have 7, 77 and 490 times to ponder about. Do not worry I am not going to. The Glenstal commentary has saved any maths calculations in these words:-
“To begin with there is God, who is King, who freely gave life and freedom to everyone, gifts which can not be measured and over and above forgave, and took away our sins.”
However the quotation does not end there for at the very heart of Jesus’s qualifying parable is another line:-
“For Man, past master in the art of making a mess of things, sinned, which amounts to the crime of High Treason and this could only be redeemed by paying sixty million pieces of silver. Only God can pay this sum!”
Matthew does not include this account as yet another rebuke to Peter but as a further reminder to those present and to us of the role he had been given and thus entrusted to the Church that is to continue Jesus ministry of reconciliation which after all is the central message of the Incarnation.
The last highly exaggerated sum I quoted, is of course based on the sum paid to Judas and is, I believe, a good example to us that the business of this parable was for them and for us to realise that at all times when we speak of being involved in the work of reconciliation it is God’s work in which we are engaged. In a nutshell, the servant in the parable is asked to be like God to his fellow servants by forgiving them. It is not just God saying, “I forgave you, therefore you should forgive others” but God saying, “I forgive all human beings; but I wish to forgive some of them through you. Their debt to you is yours and theirs, but the forgiveness is mine. And I want you to be ministers of that forgiveness.”
Once again the end of the parable has a harsh warning, but as those who pray at least once a day, ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,’ we are not beyond needing a “tug” every so often: and we have noted that a tug from God is from a patient loving Father, as we prayed in today’s Collect:-
‘Look upon us, (O God)
….that we may feel the working of your mercy,
grant that we may serve you with all our heart’