A Very Scary Story
Peter apparently had someone who owed him. But he wanted to impress Jesus with what a great guy he was. So, he asked Jesus, "How many times do I have to forgive someone who keeps on doing bad things to me? I'd be willing to go as high as...seven times!" See, the rabbis suggested that a person had to forgive up to three times. Peter doubled it and added one because he was looking for a gold star on his behavior modification chart.
Jesus, however, was not impressed. He said, "Not just seven times but seventy-seven times." Or maybe he said, "Not just seven times but 490 times." Whatever. He said, "A lot."
Peter must have had a strange look on his face, because Jesus can see that he doesn't really understand. And Jesus really wants Peter to understand. So, he tells him a story. Stories are good because you don't have to be really smart to understand them.
Jesus says, "This is what life in God's kingdom is like: There was a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. One servant owed him a zillion dollars, but he was not able to repay the debt. So, the king ordered that he and his whole family and everything he owned be sold in order to pay back the debt.
"The servant was obviously distraught at this, so he fell on his knees and begged for more time. The king was moved with compassion, so he released the man and canceled the debt. Wiped the slate clean.
"This should have made the servant ecstatic. He wouldn't have to go into slavery. His wife and children were saved. As he was on his way home to tell them all the good news, he ran into a co-worker who owed him a hundred bucks. He grabbed the guy by the throat and began to choke him, demanding that the guy pay him what he owed.
"His co-worker did exactly what he had done with the king. He fell on his knees and began to beg for more time. But the man refused and called the authorities to have him put in prison until the debt was paid off.
"When people began to hear about this they knew it was wrong. It was an affront to the generosity of the king. So, they went and told the king what had happened. Needless to say, this really angered the king, so he called the man in saying, 'You're a wicked person. I canceled all that debt because I felt sorry for you. You should have had the same kind of compassion for your co-worker.'
"Then the king had the man thrown into prison where he was tortured until he could pay back his zillion dollar loan."
Then Jesus took a deep breath. He certainly had Peter's attention -- and everyone else's for that matter. And Jesus uttered what is perhaps the scariest sentence he ever said, "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive a brother or sister from your heart."
I talked about this story a couple of weeks ago out in California. It was one of the hardest sermons I've ever preached. I'm going to talk about it again this weekend in Cleveland, OH.
I'm interested in your take on this story. What do you do with it? There's no real command here -- just Jesus telling us how things are in God's Kingdom. But he certainly doesn't pull his punches. It's pretty scary if taken literally.
What do you make of it?