The Theme of Forgiveness in Matthew

Matthew wrote his gospel for a Judaic audience.  We know this for several reasons.  The encounters between Jesus and the scribes and pharisees is apologetic, with Jesus defending his words in actions in light of tradition.  Second, the Sermon on the Mount is an interpretation of Jewish law and tradition.  Third, there are frequent references to Judaic Scripture in Matthew’s gospel.

One theme that recurs is the concept of forgiveness.  In chapter 5, the Levitic prescript allowing “an eye for an eye” is upended: “But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.”  Jesus teaches the crowd how to pray (6:9), saying “forgive us our debts as we for forgive our debtors.”   Jesus elaborates further on this verse in the Lord’s Prayer in chapter 18.

Peter sets up the teachable opportunity, asking “Lord, how often must I forgive my brother?” (18:21).  Jesus replies “seventy-seven times,” a reference and an offset to the seven-fold vengeance God would visit on a persecutor of Cain (Genesis 4:15) and the seventy-seven fold vengence on Lamech’s persecutors (Gen 4:24).  In Genesis, we are warned not to seek revenge on those, like Cain and Lamech, who clearly do evil.  Christ, says, in addition, that we are not merely to avoid revenge, but we are to forgive those who sin against us.

In order to emphasize the point, Jesus introduces the parable of the Wicked Servant at 18:23.   In the parable, the master seizes a servant for failing to pay his debt, and the servant begs for mercy, which the master grants.  The servant then seizes upon another and demands repayment for a smaller debt.  The master, hearing of this, throws the “wicked servant” into prison until the whole debt is repaid.


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  1. Matthew’s parable #18 talks about forgiveness. I have family situations where I have been lied to, called a thief, shunned and many more things. I am deeply hurt, sad and feel a sense of losing my spirit. I want to forgive each one but how can you when they don;t ask for your forgiveness? I have felt wronged pray that they will ask me for forgiveness. I know I would forgive them if they were sincere. I know I would be sincere as a devoted Catholic trying to always live by God’s word. Please help. Thank you

  2. Hello. I am sorry for the long delay in my reply. This site has not been updated in a while.

    It is a difficult thing to handle when people hurt us, perhaps unfairly, and then do not bother to apologize.

    it happens a lot. When we have been hurt by others, falsely, accused, and unfairly insulted, God is calling us to deepen our relationship with him.

    The saints, and holy people, know that when things get difficult, the only person who is always there is God.

    I have been treated unfairly at times, but I always remind myself that Jesus faced the ultimate betrayal. Even his disciples – even Peter the apostle and the others – deserted him when he was arrested.

    Despite that, Jesus forgave them. He even made Peter the head of the Church.

    I hope you can find strength in Christ (pray!) to get through your difficult time. Might I suggest finding a church and praying in front of the tabernacle (that is where Jesus is). The rosary is always a good place to start. Or just read the Gospels, or recite a psalm.

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