Year of Mercy: Mercy It Forward

The second parable that Pope Francis references is Matthew 18:21-35, a story Jesus used to answer Peter’s question, “How many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me?”

The parable has some enigmatic nuances, but the answer to Peter’s question is obvious, “Forgive those who sin against you over, over, and over.”  In other words, do not ever change from forgiveness to punishment.

That is what the servant did.  He received mercy for a huge debt, but then turned around and exacted  punishment toward a fellow servant who owed him only a small amount–Jesus’ way of reminding us that the indebtedness of others toward us is small in comparison to our indebtedness to God–which only makes our unwillingness to forgive others all the more putrid.

The message is clear: we must never create a system where retributive justice (punishment) replaces restorative justice (forgiveness).  For one thing, judgement is not our job.  And for another thing, retributive justice creates the illusion that we are the “good guys,” when the fact is, there is none righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10).

Mercy only flows from those who have recognized their need to be forgiven along with everyone else.  Mercy is our response to having been forgiven.  As long as we thank God that we are not like others (Luke 18:11) and create punitive systems to use against others, we remain strangers to grace, selling waxed fruit rather than the fruit of the Spirit.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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