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Matthew 18:21-35

Lesson Focus

Receiving great and immeasurable grace requires the giving of great and immeasurable grace.

Lesson Outcomes

Through this lesson, students should:

  1. Understand the importance of unlimited forgiveness in the Christian faith, recognizing that great and immeasurable grace from God should inspire us to offer the same level of grace and forgiveness to others.

  2. Analyze Peter's question about forgiveness and the significance of Jesus recommending forgiveness "seventy-seven times," exploring the concept of limitless forgiveness in contrast to setting a numerical limit.

  3. Reflect on the parable of the Merciful King and the Merciless Servant, recognizing the transformative power of forgiveness and the consequences of failing to extend forgiveness to others, emphasizing the need to forgive because we ourselves have been forgiven.

Catching up on the Story

Jesus has just been speaking about the importance of the unity of the community of faith by way of a parable concerned with going after those who have strayed from the church. He punctuated the segment with a small teaching on how to go about reconciliation. It is the will of God that none, specifically those belonging to the church at one time or another, be lost. Additionally, those who belong to the community of the faith would do well to remember that they are constantly accountable to the community. Now, the narrative moves from unity through reconciliation and the unrelenting chasing after our brothers and sisters to forgiveness.

Peter’s Question

Our passage begins with a question that Peter puts to Jesus. If we are honest with ourselves, we probably ask the same question of others or ourselves when facing people or groups who have repeatedly hurt us. So, it seems that the question may be natural: "How often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”

At the heart of the question is the notion that forgiveness is limited. Peter is trying to discover what that limit is. Peter offers up the number seven.

In the Bible, the number seven is the number of completeness, and perhaps Peter thought that if he had reached that number, his responsibility regarding forgiveness had been met. I don’t think we should be too hard on Peter. How many of us want to forgive after the second or third infraction, let alone the seventh? I believe Peter is trying to be generous.

Jesus, however, blows Peter out of the water by suggesting that forgiveness should extend to the seventy-seventh time.

Early church father John Chrysostom remarks that Jesus’ response is “not setting a number here, but what is infinite and perpetual and forever” (Chrysostom 375).

In other words, forgiveness should be unlimited. Jesus could leave this saying here and move on to another subject. A command from Christ should be enough to stir us toward offering an unlimited forgiveness.

However, Jesus offers a story that helps us see why we should be so extravagant in our offering of forgiveness.

The Merciful King

The story begins with the familiar phrase, “For this reason, the kingdom of heaven may be compared to…” As he has and will do in other places, Jesus is comparing a known world and rule to living in the reign of God.