In today’s Gospel Peter asks Our Lord to quantify when enough is enough in terms of forgiving someone. He wants to put a number on it. Our Lord’s response, due to the original Greek, is either seventy-seven (77) or four hundred ninety times (7 x 7 x 7 x 7 x 7 x 7 x 7 x…): in short, a lot. However, he follows up with a parable that shows we must be unlimited in our mercy. Picture the servant in today’s Gospel as being Adam after the Fall: the servant owed so much (10,000 talents in the original Greek, the equivalent wages of 160,000 years of labor) that not only was his freedom and property forfeit, but that of his entire family as well. With no freedom and no “capital” he’d never be able to repay his debt. Adam and Eve cost all of humanity their communion with God due their sin; the rest of us didn’t commit it, but we suffered its consequences, and still do. The Lord, like the king in today’s Gospel, forgave the whole debt. Everything the servant deserved to lose, he retained, due to the king’s mercy, even though he’d squandered so much.
How does the servant respond? He decided to turn a new leaf in life by becoming a loan shark collecting on his old debts. The amount his fellow servant owed him was infinitesimal (one percent) compared to what he’d just been forgiven. His repentance was shown to be short lived. When we are struggling to forgive someone, or to love someone, we are always tempted to say, “enough is enough.” We ask ourselves whether there’s a fixed rule of thumb, as Peter tried to do today, for limiting our mercy. Our Lord teaches us that “How much is enough?” is the wrong question. The right question is, “Am I going to squander the mercy I’ve received by not showing mercy to others?” The servant was forgiven, and he squandered that forgiveness by not forgiving in return; note that when the king hears of it, only the servant himself is punished, and in a worse way.
We’ve received a priceless gift of mercy through faith and Baptism. We can never repay that debt. When someone wrongs us, we have to remember that no matter how much they’ve wronged us it’s nothing compared to how much the Lord has forgiven us and continues to forgive us. Let’s forgive our brothers from the heart.
Readings: Daniel 3:25, 34–43; Psalm 25:4–5b, 6, 7b–9; Matthew 18:21–35. See also 19th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday.