As I watch the world news it seems that bloodshed and violence are increasing all around. Bombings in Afghanistan, fighting across Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, violence in Egypt, killings in Pakistan, riots in Turkey, school kidnappings in Nigeria, war with Palestine and Israel, towns massacred in Kenya – and these are just what I have heard without looking hard to find the bad news. On top of this are the multitude of sins, hurts and grievances we have inflicted on each other that do not make news headlines – but which hurt us nonetheless. In this day of vengeance and retribution, the teaching of Isa al Masih on forgiveness is of utmost importance. One day his disciples asked him how many times they should forgive. Here is the account straight from the Injil
The Story of the unmerciful Servant – Matthew 18: 21-35
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
The point of his story is that if we have accepted His mercy, Allah (the King) forgives us so very much. This was symbolized by the ten thousand bags of gold that was owed him by the servant. The servant had declared that he needed more time to pay it back. But that is an amount far too great to ever pay back, so the King just cancelled the entire debt. This is what Allah does for us if we receive His mercy.
But then this same servant found another servant that owed him one hundred silver coins. He demanded payment in full and would not give the other servant more time. When we sin against each other there are real hurts and damage, but compared to how our sin has grieved and hurt Allah it is insignificant – like 100 silver pieces compared to ten thousand bags of gold.
So the King (Allah) then sends the servant to jail to pay back everything. In the teaching of Isa al Masih, to not forgive the real sins and grievances that people have done to us is to forfeit the forgiveness of Allah and condemn ourselves to hell. This is very serious.
The challenge of course is to do this. When someone has hurt us the desire for retribution can be very great. So how can we obtain this spirit that can forgive? We need to continue exploring the Injil.