Forgiving: context

21 Then Peter approaching asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?”22 Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.23 That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants.24 When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.25 Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt.26 At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’27 Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.28 When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’29 Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’30 But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt.31 Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair.32 His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.33 Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’34 Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. 35 So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.” (Matthew 18:21–35)

Context. There is a large jump in our Sunday gospels as we move from the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time –Year A, to the 24th Sunday – in fact, the entirety of Matthew 17 is passed over. As shown in Boring’s diagram [117], we are in a part of Matthew’s gospel in which the focus is community.

Adding content to the flow of Matthew’s gospel in and around our reading, we see:

  • Mt 16:13-28    The Confession for Jesus (Jesus as Son of God, Peter as Rock, first passion prediction, Peter as a stumbling stone, the cost and promise of discipleship)
  • Mt 17:1-27      Moving to Jerusalem (Transfiguration, lessons of faith, second passion prediction, and payment of the Temple tax)
  • Mt 18:1-35      Life in the Community
    vv.1-14 (greatest in the kingdom, temptations to sin, parable of the lost sheep)
    vv.15-20 (if a brother sins against you)
    vv.21-35 (forgiveness and the parable of the unforgiving servant)

From the beginning of Matthew 16 and continuing through to entry into Jerusalem (Mt 21), Jesus is preparing and readying his disciples for life in a community of faith once Jesus is no longer with them. The way forward is founded on the revelation about Jesus (cf. Mt 16:15-16 and Mt 17:5) and all the implications that has for life in the nascent community of faith. Chief among the implications of the life, death, and resurrection of the Jesus is the charge for the community to understand the depth and breadth of forgiveness.


  • Eugene Boring, “The Gospel of Matthew” in vol. 8 of New Interpreter’s Bible (ed. Leander E. Keck. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994–2004) 117, 378-83

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.