Growing up, many of my heroes were “the strong, silent type”—men of few words and decisive, often violent, action, who always knew the right thing to do and had the ability to carry it out. Small, bookish, and emotional, I admired men like that, even though I was not that type myself.
Since I didn’t grow up in the Church, I knew only a few Bible stories. The heroes of those stories seemed larger than life—even the shepherd boy, David, who slew Goliath, has already been chosen by God, anointed by Samuel, and filled with the Spirit of the Lord before he ever took the field against the Philistine.
I knew the story of the birth of Jesus, but I didn’t think of Joseph as a hero.
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Yesterday’s gospel reading was Matthew 18:21-35, in which Peter asks Jesus how often he must forgive his brother. “As many as seven times?” he says naively, thinking that would be plenty.
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants…”
Thus begins the parable of the wicked servant, in which the Lord lays out in stark terms our duty to forgive.
You probably remember the story: The king calls to account a servant who owes him a huge amount of money. Since the servant has no way of repaying it, the king plans to sell him, his family, and all his belongings. But the servant begs for mercy, promising to repay the debt in time. And the king relents—not only does he decide not to sell the servant and all he has, but he forgives the loan altogether in response to the servant’s humble plea.
The first servant then seeks out another servant who owes him money and seizes and chokes him, demanding immediate repayment. The wrath of his master is immediate and severe: The first servant is handed over to the torturers until he repays his entire debt to the king.
Consider for a moment the fact that we’ve already been told the servant had no way of paying back the money. How, then, will he ever escape the torturers?
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