It’s been interesting putting all the accounts of this one discourse into one place. But let us go back once more to the start of it: an argument between the disciples about who was the greatest. And probably during the argument, there were a lot of words said and feelings hurt. So after Jesus talked about what to do when a person offends you, Peter asked a question that was very real to him at the moment. One of the other disciples had hurt him. It wasn’t the first time, and it probably wouldn’t be the last. The question was, how many times was he obligated to forgive?
Peter suggested seven, which at that time, was considered very magnanimous. Rabbis at the time threw out the number three in forgiving a repeated offense. (Certainly this number is found nowhere in the Bible.)
Jesus answered, “Not 7 times, but 77 times (or 70 times 7).” One wonders if he was referencing the Old Testament, where a man named Lamech issued a curse in which if anyone hurt him, that he would be avenged 77 times (Genesis 4:24). But here, Jesus teaches that we are not to look to curse the person who hurts us, but to forgive.
Jesus, by the way, is not teaching that we should forgive up to 77 times or even 490 times. Rather, we are to always forgive.
He then tells the famous story of a king who forgives the huge debt of one of his servants. The servant promptly goes out, sees another person that owes him money and demands it back. When the person begs for more time, the servant refuses, and has him thrown in prison.
The king, however, heard about it, and called the servant back in, saying,
You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you? (32-33)
He then had him thrown into jail to be tortured until he paid all that he owed. Jesus then said,
This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart. (35)
Some points. To the servant who had his debt forgiven, the amount the other man owed him was huge. Basically it was about 4 months wages worth of debt. But compared to the debt he had owed to the king, a debt worth millions and impossible to pay, there was no comparison at all.
Sometimes people hurt us, and to us, it is huge. We are hurt and scarred deeply. But what we need to realize is that our debt of sin that we owe to God is so much greater. Sure, our sins may be “smaller,” but what is small adds up. If you sin 3 times a day, that’s nearly 1000 sins a year. Multiply that by your age and you start to get an idea of just how big your debt to God is. Yet God forgave you. Shouldn’t you forgive others?
If we don’t, what will happen? The servant in the story cast the man indebted to him away from himself to wallow in his guilt. And the man was guilty. So often, we do the same. We refuse to forgive, and we cut that person off, hoping to make them wallow in their guilt.
But when the king found out, he cut that person off from his presence and handed him over to be tortured by the jailers.
I believe in the same way, when we refuse to forgive, God will hand us over to Satan to have at us. To make our lives miserable. To make us wallow in our bitterness and anger. Why? Because God hates us? No. Because he loves us and wants us to repent.
I wonder about the order of all that Jesus said in these parallel passages. And I wonder if perhaps things weren’t said in the exact order that Mark places them. Because it fits perfectly here. Jesus said,
Everyone will be salted with fire. (Mark 9:49)
In other words, if you refuse God’s seasoning of grace and mercy, he will salt you with fire. He’ll make your life miserable until your repent.
Jesus then concludes,
Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? (Mark 9:50a)
Jesus calls us the salt of the earth. To flavor the world around us with his grace and mercy. But if we hold on to bitterness and anger in our lives, we lose that saltiness. So Jesus told his disciples and us,
Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other. (Mark 9:50b)
How about you? Are you salt to those who hurt you?