Seventy Times Seven

Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive him?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who decided to settle accounts with his servants.
When he began the accounting,
a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back,
his master ordered him to be sold,
along with his wife, his children, and all his property,
in payment of the debt.
At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’
Moved with compassion the master of that servant
let him go and forgave him the loan.
When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a much smaller amount.
He seized him and started to choke him, demanding,
‘Pay back what you owe.’
Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
But he refused.
Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison
until he paid back the debt.
Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened,
they were deeply disturbed,
and went to their master and reported the whole affair.
His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?’
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”

When Jesus finished these words, he left Galilee
and went to the district of Judea across the Jordan.
(Matthew 18:21 to 19:1)

Scripture Study

18:22 seventy times seven: Denotes limitless forgiveness and mercy. ● Jesus contrasts the behavior expected of the apostles with the boundless vengeance of Lamech in Gen 4:24 (LXX), where the same figures of “seven” and “seventy times seven” are contrasted (CCC 982).

18:24 ten thousand talents: A “talent” (coin) is equivalent to 6,000 denarii, or 20 years’ wages for a laborer. The figure is exaggerated for emphasis: the parable accentuates the king’s (God’s) mercy in forgiving an incalculable debt that was impossible for the servant (man) to repay.

18:28 a hundred denarii: A minor debt, since a “denarius” was equivalent to a single day’s wage for a laborer (cf. 20:2). Repayment of 100 days’ wages required patience (18:29) but was not impossible.

18:35 forgive your brother: Jesus demonstrates the folly of mercilessness. One forgiven an eternal debt of sin should readily forgive others of much smaller debts. The lesson is summarized in Jesus’ commentary on the Our Father in 6:14–15 (cf. Jas 2:13; CCC 2842–43).

19:1 Judea beyond the Jordan: Jesus has concluded his Galilean ministry and is now headed for Jerusalem. His presence east of the Jordan has a dual significance. (1) This location is linked with John the Baptist (3:5), who was executed for condemning the divorce and remarriage of Herod Antipas and his mistress, Herodias (14:3–10). This tragedy looms in the background of the ensuing question about divorce (19:3). One suspects that the Pharisees hoped to lure Jesus into the same trap that cost John his life. (2) The region beyond the Jordan is also the place where Moses gave Israel the laws of Deuteronomy (Deut 1:5). It seems more than coincidental that Jesus is about to repeal the Deuteronomic concession for divorce and remarriage (Deut 24:1–4) in the very place where it was ratified.

Scripture Reflection

Jesus calls his disciples to a very high standard of mercy. We cannot speak words of forgiveness while harboring resentment. The Catechism reminds us that true forgiveness entails “a vital participation, coming from the depths of the heart, in the holiness and the mercy and the love of our God” (CCC 2842). Admittedly, this is not always easy. Some injuries are so deep that it “is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense” (CCC 2843). Nevertheless, if we remember how much God has forgiven us then we can avoid becoming like that unforgiving servant who, though he was forgiven much, failed to forgive others.

We can also pray for the person who hurt us and try to see beyond their harmful acts and to consider their own sorrowful condition. Hence, “the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession” (CCC 2843). In this way, the disciple can forgive his enemies interiorly, “from his heart” (18:35).

– Edward Sri

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.