“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” A question to Jesus from the disciples. They are still hoping for an earthly political kingdom, more powerful than that of their beloved David. Not only are they looking forward to this kingdom, as friends of Jesus – the king – they want a high-ranking position.
As is often the case, Jesus’ response is not the one they wanted to hear. He calls a child to himself and sets the child up as the example of the greatest. Humility is what makes one great in this kingdom. Jesus modeled this by leaving His holy position on the throne in Heaven and being born as a child, humbly living, teaching, serving, healing, and ultimately dying to save us. THIS is greatness in this kingdom.
Humility is the foundation and backdrop for the things to follow in this chapter. Humility to strip ourselves of anything that causes us to sin and separate us from God. Humility to suppress our pride and pain and offer forgiveness when we have been deeply wronged. THIS is greatness in this kingdom.
Jesus asks who, if they had a hundred sheep, and one has gone astray would not leave the ninety-nine and go in search of the one who went astray? Um, I think I would leave the one. Thank God I am not God. We are all so incredibly valuable to God. He doesn’t want even one of us to be lost…even if we go astray, wander, and stubbornly or ignorantly try to go our own way. He pursues us. THIS is greatness in this kingdom.
Jesus continues, telling us what to do when we are wronged by a Christian brother or sister. Repentance, reconciliation, and restoration are always the heart of Jesus. Not bitterness, gossiping about it or trying to ignore it.
Forgiveness isn’t based on others’ actions, but instead on our attitude. It doesn’t mean reconciliation has to occur. Where reconciliation takes two, forgiveness only takes one. It doesn’t mean approval or acceptance of the wrong done to us. It doesn’t mean we forget. It doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for the offender. It simply means we free ourselves of the burden of it. Jesus ends these instructions of addressing wrongs with a statement on the power of unified agreement in prayer. Things like, “if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” And, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Friends, if you are struggling with forgiveness, invite your friends to join you in prayer. Jesus will join you too. THIS is greatness in this kingdom.
Peter is feeling especially generous when he suggests we forgive someone who sins against us seven times, certainly much more than the traditional norms.
“I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times,” Jesus responds. Not a literal seventy-seven times, of course, but a lot. And then a lot more than that.
How can we be expected to forgive so often? Because we have been so extravagantly forgiven. Over and over and over again.
Jesus explains with a parable: A master was owed 10,000 talents from a servant. Commentators say that is the equivalent of $12 million to $1 billion; no doubt impossible to pay back. At the pleading of the servant, the master had mercy on him, forgiving the debt. Upon leaving free with a clean slate, the forgiven servant finds another servant who owes him 100 denari (approximately 100 days wages) and brutally demands repayment. The original master is outraged at his lack of mercy after receiving such mercy and sentenced him accordingly.
We can forgive much because we have been forgiven much. THIS is greatness in this kingdom.
Jesus offers forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration. The forgiveness has already been granted and paid for. It was a one-way gift from Jesus to us when our sins were nailed to the cross. However, we must step into the reconciliation and restoration through repentance and accepting the forgiveness offered by Jesus. Hurt people hurt people, but forgiven people forgive people; freed people free people. THIS is greatness in this kingdom.
God, thank You for Your unimaginable forgiveness. Thank You for being on our side, deeply desiring restoration and reconciliation. Thank You for consistently pursuing us, even when we are all alone, wandering and lost. Help Your forgiveness of us overflow into gracious and merciful forgiveness of others. Thank You for the freedom that comes from forgiveness.
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