Whatever the Cost

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:21–35 ESV)

Scottish Quaker author William Barclay writes, “We owe a very great deal to the fact that Peter had a quick tongue. Again and again Peter rushed into speech, and his impetuosity drew from Jesus teaching which is immortal.”

We can all be grateful for the questions Peter asks Jesus in Scripture, and I am especially grateful for this one. Let us consider the context as Matthew lays out his Gospel: Jesus had been teaching about approaching a brother who has sinned against us (18:15–20). The goal of Jesus’s teaching was restoration and peace rather than exclusion from the brother, but Peter wants some clarity when he asks his question.

Peter takes the lead and tries to answer his own question with another question – “As many as seven times?” The rabbis taught that one should forgive up to three times; after that, there was no need to forgive (Amos 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13). Peter probably picked up on Jesus using the number seven and inserted it, hoping to get an affirmation from his Rabbi Jesus. Instead, he received the unexpected “seventy-seven times” as an answer. What follows in our Lent reading is a masterful parable from King Jesus, which emphasizes how much God has forgiven us and, as a result, how much we should forgive our brother.

If Jesus went to the cross to open the door of peace and forgiveness for us, then at what cost do I forgive my brother? We are left with only one possible answer as Christ followers: for the sake of the Gospel, whatever the cost.

We live in a world of broken relationships. I don’t know about you, but I am convicted by passages like this. Would you join me in asking some prayerful questions during this time of Lent?

  1. Lord, what is your Spirit specifically exposing in me and bringing to light that I need to surrender to you?
  2. Lord, who am I to rationalize my unforgiveness of others and justify it in the inner depth of my soul? Would your Spirit replace my unforgiveness with your peace that passes all understanding?
  3. Lord, would you show me the specific people I harbor unforgiveness toward and lead me to pray for them continuously?

Steve Weisenburger is the regional minister for the NAB Northwest.