Forgiveness is not just a way to reconciliation, it is the way of salvation. If you want to put limits on the forgiveness you bestow on others, you may well find yourself in hell! Jesus does not teach us that forgiveness must be given based on careful consideration of whether the person deserves it or not, but that forgiveness must be given constantly, repeatedly, and as if our own life depended on it. It isn’t helpful for people who find it hard to forgive to begin to think that they are perhaps justified in being slow to forgive because of the hurts they’ve received.
Forgiveness must be given quickly, fully, and with no strings attached – that is the example we get from the master who forgives his servant in the parable. The restoration of trust is not a necessary fruit of forgiveness however. Sometimes people confuse trust and forgiveness: when you say, “I forgive you,” it doesn’t mean “I trust you.” In cases of physical abuse, the one who forgives is not expected to simply continue subjecting themselves to beatings.
At the same time, forgiveness is not just a decision to let bygones be bygones: it is an act of love. Forgiveness desires all goods to come to the one who has offended us rather than justice finally catching up with them. To forgive means we would no longer feel a sense of satisfaction if the offender were punished. While we should not act contrary to justice, we forgive fully when we release our debtor from anything owed to us. They don’t even “owe us an apology.” One who cannot recognize their fault or does not correct themselves may not be trustworthy, and we are not required to place ourselves vulnerably in the position to receive further offenses from them. But forgiving means loving them, wanting the best for them, and praying for them even if we discern, prudently, to keep our distance.
Jesus Himself stayed away from and passed through the midst of those who were trying to kill Him until His hour had actually come. He withheld his body from their attempts to beat and slay Him until the time was right, but he never withheld his heart or mercy from them.
“Since, it says, your law does not allow the customary sacrifices to be offered in every place, we offer a contrite and humble heart in place of the rams, the bulls, the countless sheep, and we ask that this sacrifice be more pleasing to you than any other, since you are accustomed to freeing from all dishonor those who trust in you.”1
“Pardon’s frequency shows us that in our case there is never a time for anger, since God pardons us for all sins in their entirety by his gift rather than by our merit. Nor should we be excused from the requirement of giving pardon that number of times [i.e., seventy times seven], since through the grace of the gospel God has granted us pardon without measure.”2
“He did not dismiss the debt, and he called for an accounting. Why? His teaching purpose was to show him with all justice precisely how much debt he was going to free him from! In this way at least he might in due time become more gentle toward his fellow servant. Yet, even having learned of the weight of his debt and the greatness of the forgiveness, he continued to take his fellow servant by the throat. If the master had not disciplined him beforehand with such attempted medicines, how much worse might his cruelty have been than the shocking extent that it actually turned out to be?”3
“Do you see again how generous he was? The servant asked only for an extension of time, but he gave him more than he asked for, remission and forgiveness of the entire debt. He wanted to give him this from the start, but he did not want the giving to be on his side only. He wanted the servant to learn from it and to ask for mercy, in order than he not be under an illusion of innocence. For that the whole was the Lord—even if the servant fell on his knees and implored—is demonstrated by the motive for the remission, for it says, “Out of pity the lord released him.” In this way he also wanted the servant to take some responsibility, to prevent him being too much put to shame, and so that he might learn from his own case and be lenient to his fellow servant, and schooled in his own calamities.”4
- Theodoret of Cyr, Commentary on Daniel 3.39-40.
- Hilary of Poitiers, ON MATTHEW 18.10. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (pp. 82–83). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Chrysostom, THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 61.3. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 84). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Chrysostom, THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 61.3. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 85). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.