Finding Forgiveness by Scott Anderson
My first job as a lawyer was prosecuting sex crimes against children. The cases were spiritually draining and emotionally wrenching. During interviews with young, female victims, I was forced to look past the desk photo of my own little daughter. Victimhood became less a legal status than a lived reality. And with victimhood implanted in my mind, I found evil sprouting everywhere. Everyone became a possible perpetrator or a potential victim. Everyone was about to do wrong or to be wronged.
The hard lesson I had to learn about a system of justice is that it has no place for forgiveness. As soon as someone has been wronged, retribution must be sought. The wrong must be righted. Someone has to pay. The account must be settled.
In this parable, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a king who wishes to settle accounts with his servants. The irony is that, from the very beginning, the king refuses to settle accounts. Instead, he forgives the very first servant’s debt entirely. The king doesn’t seek what he is rightfully owed. He doesn’t seek justice. He seeks to forgive. In short, the king chooses to believe that the servant’s wrong isn’t wrongful. So, the king acquits him.
Unfortunately, the forgiven servant continues living under the justice system. The servant, although freed from an insurmountable debt, remembers that a colleague owes him money. He has been wronged, and the wrong must be righted. He tracks down his debtor, grasps him by the throat and, choking him into submission, demands repayment. When his fellow servant cannot pay, the forgiven servant has him thrown in prison.
Of course, the witnessing crowd sees the forgiven servant’s actions as wrongful. He has wronged one of the community’s members, and now this wrong, too, must be righted. The crowd immediately delivers the first servant to the king to be punished. And, in the end, the recalcitrant servant receives the same measure of justice he gave.
Jesus’ lesson is hard. You have to be careful treating others as you want to be treated. If you want to find fault with others, then others will want to find fault with you. If want to make sure others get what they deserve, then others will want to make sure you get what you deserve. Payback’s not only a bitch; it’s relentless.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. After all, the king in the parable chose to see his servant’s debt not as wickedness but as ignorance. He chose to see another’s “sin” not as a misdeed, but as a mistake. Maybe the poor guy didn’t know any better. Maybe he couldn’t do otherwise.
In other words, perhaps, if one continually seeks to forgive, one may find innocence or ignorance, rather than injustice, everywhere. Jesus, King of the Jews, embodied this principle. In his last hours, gazing down upon the crowd that had imprisoned and impaled him, Jesus, choking, pleaded: “Father, forgive them; for they don’t know what they are doing.”
Matthew 18: 21-35
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.
‘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; 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. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 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.” Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. 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. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’