A Reflection on Matthew 18. 21-35
Revd Adrian Jones
“Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”
It’s a quote from C.S. Lewis, and a good one.
Forgiveness is central to our Christian faith - but it is not the soft, fluffy, theoretical ideal that some would like to imagine.
There can be nothing more difficult to offer when we have been deeply injured, nothing more difficult to accept when we know we are guilty, but also nothing more transformative when graciously offered and gratefully received.
There is also nothing more difficult to understand, truly, until we ourselves are in the sad position of having been subject to a great wrong, injury or injustice, and yet knowing that the route to healing, restoration and peace for everyone involved will only start with our granting forgiveness. Only when we are on the spot, feeling the hurt but so conscious of Christ’s call to forgive, can we start to work through for ourselves what forgiveness really involves.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, because of our human brokenness and tendency to selfishness, no one of us escapes the hurt inflicted by others and that requires our forgiveness …. and no one of us can avoid being the person who inflicts such injury on others either. Normal human life is a classroom for forgiveness.
With this parable of the forgiving master and the unforgiving servant Jesus encourages his disciples to reflect on the forgiveness of God. The parable still, today, leaves us with many questions and it should stir us to look hard at ourselves – just as Jesus intended.
Here are some of the things that make me think as I read this parable today:
- Jesus clearly wants us to ponder God’s forgiveness shown to us, as we hear of the rich master’s forgiveness shown to his servant. However, in the parable the first servant finds himself in trouble because he has enormous debts that he can’t repay. We usually find Jesus talking about the forgiveness of sins… so in what way are our sins like debts? How does our wrong-doing put us in debt to God? How do we find ourselves trying to pay off this debt? Can we ever be successful?
- The servant is in trouble and pleads with his master for more time to repay the debt. Does God want us to plead for forgiveness before he will grant it? What is God looking for in us when His heart is turned towards forgiveness?
- The first servant fails to cancel the debt of the second servant, despite the mercy that has been shown to him by the master. As a consequence the first servant ends up worse off than when he started. Is it right to say then, that if we will not forgive others we have not truly understood our own forgiveness? What if we want to forgive but just find it so hard?
My final reflection from this parable is that perhaps we should see forgiveness as a way of life rather than an event; more like a river than a lake. When we seek to follow the way of Jesus, perhaps forgiveness is not so much a place we visit on the journey, but the power and direction that carries us all the time and that shapes each relationship and every encounter.