Tuesday of the Third Week in Lent
(Daniel 3:25.34-43; Matthew 18:21-35)
There is a problem implied in Jesus’ parable. If the servant whose debt is forgiven mistreats a fellow servant, can he expect forgiveness upon request for his second offense? If yes, then where is justice? If no, then why does Jesus insist that one must forgive seventy-seven times?
Obviously, Jesus does not imply this dilemma in his “seventy-seven times” rule. He sees forgiveness as turning on the genuineness of the guilty party’s contrition. In the parable the servant shows that his original petition of forgiveness is insincere by refusing to show mercy when the tables are turned. The commandment to forgive “seventy-seven times” applies only when the offender intends to change her ways. If a request for forgiveness merely simulates contrition, one would be foolish to honor it.
We may worry about the sincerity of our own contrition when we find ourselves confessing the same sins over and over again. Let us never underestimate God’s mercy. It is more abundant that the water of the oceans. But God is also discerning. He reads human hearts to know whether we really intend to change our ways. To be sure, God understands that bad habits are hard to break and will allow us plenty of opportunities to mend our ways.