Matthew 18:21-35

Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine

This is one of Jesus' great parables. Iand it comes in response to a question of from Peter with regard to Peter’s question, “Lord,.  In the NRSV it's translated "if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive?." Peter’s problem arises from the process for conflict resolution that Jesus identified in the previous discourse (Matthew 18:15-20).

The Greek word translated as “church” in the NRSV—ecclesia—can also be translated as “community.” I think “community” is the more probable original meaning because in Peter’s context there wasn’t a church. Thus, the sentence would say, “If another member of the community sins against me, how often should I forgive?”  It can also be translated, and I think is more likely in Peter's context since there wasn't a church, "if a brother sins against me." 

The question of forgiveness is a generic issue in all communities and in all interpersonal relationships.  When someone else sins against you, how often do you forgive him or her?  And if he the person keeps doing the same thing, how often do you forgive him?  As Do you forgive him as many as seven times?  Jesus answers the question with a symbolic number that is sometimes translated as seventy-seven (NRSV) and elsewhere as seventy times seven. Whichever way, what matters is that this is Jesus’ way of naming a number beyond calculation. When heard in relation to the previous discourse in verses 15-20 the question would be, “How many times should I go through the process of reconciliation? Jesus’ answer: an infinite number of times.

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