In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 18, Peter asks Jesus about forgiveness, “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.”
Verse 27 gives us the model of what forgiveness is supposed to look like: The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. In these three aspects we see how forgiveness functions. Over the next three days of lent I would like to examine each of these aspects of forgiveness. Today we look at pity: The servant’s master took pity on him.
This is not just feeling sorry for someone. The word ‘pity’ is a very important word in the Bible because it literally means to have your heart go out to somebody which gets us closer to what Jesus is saying. But what does it mean to have your heart go out to somebody? It means you’re identifying with him. It means you’re putting your life in his life and you feel something of what he feels. Put it another way, you are identifying with the one who has wronged you. It means you deliberately do the internal work of reminding yourself of how much you have in common. You put yourself in the others’ place and you empathize, you sympathize , you are essentially looking at that person in his condition and saying, “oh, me too.”
Now this is not something the heart does naturally. The default mode of the heart does not want to identify the commonalities with your enemy. The unregenerate heart was to accentuate the differences. We do this two ways. Professor Miroslav Volf tells us that we accentuate the differences by 1. excluding ourselves from the community of sinners (I’m not like that person – I would never do that!) and 2. We exclude our enemy from the community of humans (that person didn’t just lie, that person is a liar!). We must identify with our enemies – putting our lives in their lives and feeling what they feel.
But when we seek to understand our own depravity and understand what has been forgiven in us (Christ our King had compassion, pity, upon our condition when we were still his enemies) we will begin to see our enemy in the same light.
Tomorrow: Cancelled the Debt