Lenten reflection

March 10: Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent

At some point in almost every Christian ethics course I teach I find an occasion to clarify: “Christian ethics is not really a should, so much as a therefore.”

The gospel reading for today explains why. It begins with what does seem like a huge and unmistakable should. Jesus tells Peter he should forgive someone who sins against him not 7 but 77 times. Because actually, Peter has missed the point. If he is meticulously counting to 5, 6, 7, then he hasn’t really forgiven even once!

Jesus’ real message to Peter continues, then, not with an accounting or math lesson on multiples of seven, but with a story: An official in a royal court owes his master an unspeakable sum of money – billions in 21st -century dollars. About to lose his family to debt slavery along with all that he owns, he throws himself at the king’s feet and receives mercy. Back at work, though, he has learned nothing. Soon he is trying to extract payment from a subordinate for a debt only a tiny fraction of what he has just been forgiven. So when the king finds out, this time he loses his patience: “You wicked servant!” he exclaims. “I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’

It is that little word “as” which reveals the beating heart of the Christian moral life, and for that matter, Jewish fidelity to God’s Law before it. We are to welcome immigrants because we remember what it was like for God to liberate us when we were foreigners – to aid the widow and orphan because we were once dispossessed – to forgive because God in Christ has forgiven us first and so much more.

As the writer of 1 John succinctly summarized: “We love because God first loved us.” In Lent, then, we rightly recall our sins and failures, but not to grovel or despair as Peter surely did upon first hearing that number 77. We recall in order to evoke our gratitude for God’s grace, and thus to nurture graciousness to others. Therefore.

Inspired by Daniel 3:25,34-43 and Matthew 18:21-33

Originally posted by the University of St. Thomas Office of Mission

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