It might look as if Peter is asking a question about Forgiving. But he is really asking when it is okay to strike back. Rather generously, when most people would stop at two, Peter offers seven chances. Jesus evokes the horror story from Genesis 4,23- 24 where Lamech boasts, ‘I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, Lamech seventy-seven fold’. Without forgiveness there is an escalation of violence. Violence will only stop where forgiveness is present. Jesus wants us to be unremittingly committed to forgiveness.
Today’s Parable is stunning. It is the story of a king (God) and a servant (sinner) who is mercifully forgiven. The servant has made a “huge” mistake which, when found out cannot be repaid. This mistake will cost him, and all those he loves, everything. When you’re about to lose everything, you will promise anything. He is on his knees and his back is against the wall. He pleads for justice and for time, when suddenly Compassion appears. Mercy comes as a shock and, when it arrives from the future, it changes everything. The servant is suddenly in the first day of the rest of his life. The classic forgiven sinner.
Of course, Jesus wants all of us to see ourselves as this servant. We have sold ourselves into slavery and cannot get out. We say that all we need is more time when the truth is that no time will be enough. We think we can sort ourselves out but our cleverness betrays us. We need the new start and it can only happen by opening our heart to the Heart of God from where mercy flows. He can’t believe his luck and he should be filled with joy …….
But then a terrible thing happens. Oh no! The servant still sees himself as a creditor. He pleads for himself but continues to be violent to others. He cannot see, hear or feel himself in his brother, even when he uses the same words! So he throttles him, consigns him to bondage, destroys his family and puts him in a place where he can never make the situation better.
Then a startling thing happens! The Kings mercy vanishes. It recedes back into him, leaving the man with all the consequences of his huge mistake. Divine Mercy may be freely given but if it is not passed on it ceases to be effective in the lives of those who have received it. It seems that for Jesus, Divine Forgiveness and human forgiveness are movements in the same dance.
So, when Peter asks Jesus when it is okay to strike back, the answer is clear. We can only live if we have the mercy and forgiveness of God. Never, Never, Never, Ever forget that! The more we show mercy, the more we will receive it. The more we fail to show mercy the more it will recede. Dear Peter, if you understand this, you will never ask again, “How many times?” We are all bound by our past failures until a future is gifted to us. But all is lost the moment we put our hands around the throat of someone who is in debt to us. All is lost, and we are back in a world of revenge, reprisal and retaliation.
If you don’t believe this, just watch the news!