In today’s Gospel from Matthew 18:23-35, we hear the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, which provides an interesting contrast between the Rabbinic teachings of the Old Testament and the teachings of Our Lord recorded in the New Testament concerning how many times you are to forgive others.
In the Old Testament, God promised to forgive sins but also to punish the guilty and their children to the third and fourth generations. In the rabbinic tradition one is to forgive three times but after, “they are not to forgive”. The Apostle Peter proposed that the master should forgive seven times, much more generous than the traditional three times, but Jesus answered him by saying not seven times but, “seventy times seven”, in other words unlimited forgiveness.
God requires us both to condemn ourselves for our sins and to forgive others; and the former for the sake of the latter, that this may become more easy (for He who considers his own sins is more indulgent to his fellow servant); and not merely to forgive with the lips, but from the heart…Let us not then thrust the sword into ourselves by being revengeful…For if we be willing, no one shall be able to injure us, but even our enemies shall advantage us in the greatest degree…We punish ourselves by hating others, even as on the other hand we benefit ourselves by loving them. (from the Homily of St. John Chrysostom on the Gospel of Matthew).
It is imperative that the most distinctive teachings of the Christian faith is freely to forgive others. Based upon the experience of God’s forgiveness in Christ, Orthodox Christians are to forgive others from the heart. We must rid ourselves of all bitterness, passion and anger. We are exhorted to, “be kind and tender hearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you through Christ”. (Ephesians 4:31-32).
Let us heed the words and teachings of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who taught us through His Gospel the true meaning of forgiveness.