Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (17 September)

The Gospel passage for today is found in Matthew, Chapter 18

In a sense, our Gospel today is an ideal Gospel to ponder any time we want to get our spiritual lives in order. Approaching today’s Gospel passage in context, you can almost discern a not-so-subtle storm brewing among the disciples over which of them is the greatest (vv. 1–4), how to deal with weak members (vv. 6–7, 10–14), and, as we discussed last week, how to discipline those who fail to live up to group norms (vv. 15–20). Peter, today, makes explicit the recurring question that plagues all Christians in all times and places: When may we stop forgiving those who offend us repeatedly? Christians since the early Church have consistently taken the meaning of Jesus’ answer – whether translated ‘seventy-seven’ or ‘seventy times seven’ – to be crystal clear: never. Our God is a God who forgives completely, and the body of Christ is called to do likewise. To this exchange, between Jesus and Peter, is attached a rather straightforward parable about forgiveness and judgment. Together these passages create a powerful call to forgiveness within the Christian community. The parable sets this call in the context of divine grace and divine punishment. Peter’s suggestion is not an attempt to place a limit on forgiveness. In fact, since seven is a holy number, Peter is probably asking something like, ‘Must I practice complete or perfect forgiveness?’ While the exact number is not clear in the Greek, the point of the number is. Your forgiveness must be beyond perfect; it must be beyond counting; it must be complete. The parable reads as a straightforward call for ‘us’ to forgive one another because God forgives us and will punish us if we do not. The conditional nature of God’s forgiveness suggested here is not new to Matthew. The most famous such moment occurs in the Lord’s Prayer and in Matthew’s comment upon it (6:12). We are left with an interesting sequence. God forgives us. We, as Christians, who live under God’s grace and forgiveness, will be judged by this same God, mostly by whether we show the same grace and forgiveness to others.