The words in the Lord’s Prayer about forgiveness are far-reaching: ‘…and forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.’ (Luke 11:4, NET version).
Do we? How far are we willing to go in forgiving others when we are wronged? Whilst God’s forgiveness is freely given, it isn’t entirely unconditional: we need to believe in him and try to forgive those who have wronged us (even if we don’t succeed!).
One of Jesus’ parables was about a man who had a huge debt that was written off (Matt 18:23-35). The debt was 10,000 talents, which works out to several billion pounds in today’s terms. And yet the man’s master wrote it off when the debtor pleaded with him. Then, one of the man’s fellow-servants owed him a much, much smaller amount – 100 denarii. And yet the man did not forgive him; instead he demanded immediate payment, which highlighted the enormity of the forgiveness that he had received, and his inability to forgive a much smaller debt. You may think that the 100 denarii was a trivial debt, but it wasn’t – it was equivalent to four months wages, or around £8,000-9,000 (based on the average salary in the UK, before tax). So, the smaller debt in this parable was not a couple of pennies, but a fairly substantial amount of money. The lesson here, I think, is that even when we are wronged badly, we should still respond to those who ask to be forgiven, because we ourselves have been forgiven to such an enormous extent by our Master.
The parable follows Jesus’ answer to Peter’s question about how many times we should forgive somebody who keeps wronging us. Should there be a quota or a limit? Jesus’ answer was clear: our forgiveness should be limitless. This isn’t easy. When we are wronged, it is natural to feel the full range of negative emotions towards that person, and it seems unnatural to forgive them. But this is what we need to work towards, because if we can’t find it in our heart to forgive others, our own forgiveness is at stake!