Mercy and forgiveness should be at the heart of the Christian life.
Yet, as today’s First Reading wisely reminds us, often we cherish our wrath, nourish our anger, refuse mercy to those who have done us wrong. Jesus, too, strikes close to home in today’s Gospel, with His realistic portrayal of the wicked servant— who won’t forgive a fellow servant’s debt, even though his own slate has just been wiped clean by their master.
It can’t be this way in the kingdom, the Church. In the Old Testament, “seven” is frequently a number associated with mercy and the forgiveness of sins. The just man sins seven times daily; there is a sevenfold sprinkling of blood for atonement of sins (see Proverbs 24:6; Leviticus 16). But Jesus tells Peter today that we must forgive not seven times, but 70 times seven times. That means: every time.
We are to be merciful as our Father in heaven is merciful (see Luke 6:36; Matthew 5:48). But why? Why does Jesus repeatedly warn that we can’t expect forgiveness for our trespasses unless we’re willing to forgive others their trespasses against us?
Because, as Paul reminds us in today’s Epistle, we are the Lord’s. Each of us has been purchased by the blood of Christ shed for us on the cross (see Revelation 5:9). As we sing in today’s Psalm, though we deserved to die for our sins, he doesn’t deal with us according to our crimes. The mercy and forgiveness we show to others should be the heartfelt expression of our gratitude for the mercy and forgiveness shown to us.
This is why we should remember our last days, set our enmities aside and stop judging others. We know that one day we will stand before the judgment seat and give account for what we’ve done with the new life given to us by Christ (see Romans 14:10,12).
So we forgive each other from the heart, overlook each other’s faults, and await the crown of his kindness and compassion.
Scott Hahn is founder of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, stpaulcenter.com.