One of my psychology professors had an impressive skill in reading people. She could look at your face and determine what’s happening inside you. You might smile, but she knew you had hidden anger and bitterness. You might be funny, but she knew you had depression.
If you have seen the TV show “Lie To Me,” you know what I mean. She could read your mind through a twitch on your face and a twinkle in your eyes. You cannot lie to her. She also could ask you to draw a picture and interpret the state of your mind by looking at the picture you draw. She told me it took her over a decade of training to develop those skills.
Can you imagine talking to someone who can read your mind? It’s like standing naked in front of her. As you may guess, one day, during the class, she told me what I was struggling deep inside. I didn’t know I had that problem until she revealed it. The healing process began from there on. Without consciousness, there’s no progress.
Over the years, I have discovered that many people unknowingly carry a heavy burden in their hearts. Two of those heaviest burdens are guilt and grudges. It’s like carrying a sack of rotten potatoes wherever you go. Even though you don’t notice it, others can.
Let me tell you a story about the rotten potatoes.
One day, a sage gave his disciple an empty sack and a basket of potatoes and asked him to carve the names of the people he was angry with on each potato. He said,
“Think of all the people who have offended you, especially those you cannot forgive. Take one potato to represent each of them, carve their name on it, and put it in the sack.”
The disciple came up with a few names, and soon after, his sack was heavy with potatoes.
“Carry the sack with you wherever you go for seven days,” said the sage. “Then we shall meet again.”
At first, the disciple thought it was not a big deal. After some time, however, it became more of a burden. It seemed to require more effort as time passed, even though its weight remained the same.
After a few days, the sack began to smell; the carved potatoes gave off a ripe odor. Not only were they increasingly inconvenient to carry around, they were also becoming rather unpleasant.
He noticed he began to get used to the smell, but other people avoided him because he stunk.
Finally, the week was over, and the disciple went to the sage.
“Any thoughts about all this?” the sage asked.
“Yes, Sir,” the disciple replied. “When we are unable to forgive others, we carry negative feelings with us everywhere, much like these potatoes. That negativity becomes a burden to us and, after a while, it festers.”
“Yes, that is exactly what happens when you hold a grudge. So, how can you lighten the load?”
“I must strive to forgive.”
“Forgiving someone is the equivalent of removing the corresponding potato from the sack. How many of your transgressors are you able to forgive?”
“I’ve thought about it quite a bit,” the disciple said. “It required much effort, but I have decided to forgive all of them.”
(End of story.)
Forgiveness is easier said than done. Sometimes, we don’t even realize the grudges we are keeping, especially after years of carrying it on our backs. We might get used to it, but people around us can smell it, especially someone like my professor with decades of training.
We live in a fallen world and must deal with fallen people. You can never live a happy life if you don’t know how to forgive. If you want to travel light in your life journey, you must learn to keep the potatoes from weighing you down.
Jesus teaches his disciples to travel light by teaching them how to remove their grudges from their backs. Forgiveness is not easy—it’s difficult for me also—especially when someone hurt you deeply and left a permanent scar, but Jesus has taught us a secret to forgive everyone.
Forgiveness is a feature of social intelligence. It lightens the weight of your heart and allows you to be socially savvy—win friends and influence people, in a genuine way. Most importantly, God promises to answer your prayers and accompany you when you maintain harmony with others.
There is a mystery about forgiveness. So, today, we will learn this vital teaching of Jesus Christ from this week’s scripture lesson. Let’s begin!
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper—you are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you and you are satisfied in God.]
The Scripture lesson for today is from the Gospel According to Matthew 18:21-35. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Mt 18:21–35).
[Blessed are those who delight in God’s word. Thanks be to God!]
The context of this passage is when Jesus taught the disciples to develop social intelligence by being humble like children, being patient with those behind on their spiritual journey, and treasuring harmonious living. (We covered it last week.)
If we can live in humility and harmony, Jesus promises to answer our prayers, give us anything we ask, and accompany us wherever we are. It’s a significant promise.
Now, Peter thought Jesus might not mean forgiving unconditionally and forever. Forgiveness might have a limit. We might agree with him. There should be a point when we say, “Enough is enough!”
The Jewish tradition at that time was to forgive three times. That’s where the concept of “three strikes and you are out” came from. Knowing Jesus’ patience, Peter thought extending the number to seven times should be more than enough—it’s more than twice what their religion requires. The Bible says,
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. (Mt 18:21-22).
Depending on the version of the Bible you read, it might translate as “seventy times seven” because Jesus used a pun that could translate into either “seventy-seven times” or “seventy times seven.”
Jesus is a funny and witty rabbi, often using Hebrew humor to make his teaching memorable. One of the features of Hebrew humor is exaggeration. In this case, he expands Peter’s number seventy-seven times or seventy times or seven, which is four hundred and ninety times. The pun was intended to make you stop counting.
Unfortunately, I happen to know someone who took it literally. This man grew up frequently offended by his older brother and looked forward to a chance for revenge. His mom always defended his brother, which made him even more begrudging. With respect to his mom, he refrained from retaliation.
Growing up in Sunday School, he knew he must forgive, but he took Jesus’ word literally. So, he kept a notebook since he was young, recording how often his brother had offended him. He believed he would be justified to take revenge as soon as he reached 491 times.
By the time he was about fifty years old, his notebook was full, and he had recorded nearly 490 counts of offense. His mother had passed away, so she was no longer there to defend his brother, which gave him more freedom to prepare for a vicious vengeance.
I didn’t hear about the rest of his story, but can you imagine what a pain to carry such a heavy load of grudges all these years? I hope his pastor explained to him that Jesus didn’t mean for us to count the offenses. We are supposed to count the blessings. That’s the danger of taking Jesus’ humor literally.
Sometimes, I thought Jesus should have used a bigger number than seventy times seven. In any case, I hoped he finally found solace in God’s grace.
If we read the context, we would understand why Jesus requires us to forgive uncountably. Jesus told a parable to make this point. He says.
“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him;” (Mt 18:23-24).
Even though in English, debt and sin are two distinct and unrelated words, in Hebrew, the word debt also means sin. That’s the case in many languages, including Greek, Aramaic, Syriac, and Chinese. So, when Jesus talked about debt, his audience knew it meant sin.
This man owes the king ten thousand talents. A talent of money in those days is equivalent to more than one million dollars. That means he owed the king ten billion dollars.
Can you imagine carrying ten billion dollars in debt? Again, remember, Jesus used exaggeration as a figure of speech to make a point. The point is that this man owed the king an amount he could never repay in his lifetime.
Jesus said the king represents the Heavenly Father. So, he wants us to reflect on our own sins and realize that we owe God a debt we can never pay back in our lifetime. It’s not to guilt trip us but to lift our consciousness to the reality of life. Unless we understand this truth, we cannot appreciate God’s forgiveness.
As I mentioned, the two heaviest burdens we carry are guilt and grudges. Guilt is what we owe others, and grudges are what others owe us. They are like debts.
Jesus wants us to count what we owe before we count what others owe us. If we put our names on the potatoes to record our sins against God and put them in another sack, it would be much heavier than the other sack.
Because he owed so much, the king ordered to sell him, his family, and his possessions to recover part of his loss. So, the slave begged the king to give him time to repay the debt. The king knows he could never repay such a large amount. Jesus said,
“And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.” (Mt 18:27).
Even though he begged for more time to repay, the king forgave him the entire debt. That was amazing grace. Can you imagine a ten billion dollar debt taken off your burden? What a relief! Now you could walk straight and travel light. Jesus continues,
But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ (Mt 18:28).
A denarius is about a day’s wage of a laborer. I checked our national average and found it’s about $200 a day. So, the man owed him about $20,000. Like him, the man bagged him for more time, but he refused to forgive and threw him in prison. The king heard about it and was angry at the ungrateful servant and revoked his forgiveness. Jesus said,
So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Mt 18: 35).
Notice Jesus says to forgive “from your heart.” It’s not just about external forgiveness but internal forgiveness—sincere forgiveness, holding no grudges.
The surprising mystery in this parable is that God may revoke forgiveness. That sounds contrary to our Reformed Protestant Theology, which believes God’s forgiveness is unconditional. How could God revoke His forgiveness.
When I put the puzzles together from Jesus’ entire teaching, I found Jesus reveals to us that God’s forgiveness is like a triangle; it’s not complete until we forgive it forward. Jesus repeatedly emphasizes this point. For example, he said,
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” (Mat 5:7).
Our mercy completes the cycle of God’s mercy. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Grace is free but not cheap.” If God forgives us without requiring us to pay it forward, it becomes cheap grace. Like that slave, we didn’t learn anything from that grace if we don’t forgive. Jesus also taught us in the Lord’s prayer,
“Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” (Mt 6:12).
You can see Jesus repeatedly taught us this triangle truth. Here are the three empowering principles we learn from this parable to enable us to forgive.
- Know I owe God more than others owe me
- Be grateful for God’s forgiveness
- Complete the cycle of forgiveness by forgiving it forward.
Remember Jesus’ promise to bless you by answering your prayers and being with you wherever you are when you forgive with humility and maintain harmony.
That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound freedom, purpose, and happiness.