‘Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a King who wanted to settle his accounts with his servants…’ (Matthew 18:23-35)
Jesus told this parable in response to Peter’s question about how often he should forgive those who sinned against him. Peter thought he was doing well in suggesting that offering such forgiveness seven times was acceptable and perhaps justifiably so. Rabbinic teaching at the time, based on Scripture found in the opening chapters of Amos where God judges and condemns other nations, stated that you had to forgive someone on three occasions. Should a fourth offence occur, then punishment was justifiable. To forgive seven times – Peter must have thought he was doing good; however, Jesus response to Peter teaches us otherwise.
Over the years there has been much debate about the numbers given by Jesus in response to Peter and indeed different versions have different translations. However, what Jesus is saying here is quite simply that there should be no limit to the forgiveness we offer to those who sin against us. Of course such teaching might have been difficult for Peter and the others to understand and accept – as it still might be for many today. But in this parable Jesus goes to say why this is so.
Essentially, we need to forgive in order to be forgiven. Divine and human forgiveness go hand in hand and this is clearly illustrated in the parable. If we would come to God seeking His forgiveness for our sins and misdemeanours we must show that same forgiveness to others and James also warns of the consequences of not doing so, ‘…judgement will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy…’ (James 2:13).
Through the sacrifice of His Son, God offers us forgiveness for all our sins – past, present and future. What this parable teaches us is that it is this same level of forgiveness we should offer others.