The Gospel of Matthew

Highlighted Text: Matthew 18:21-35

Summary of the Text

What is Forgiveness?

Forgiveness isn’t an act of will or a reaction to an apology. Forgiveness is an act of faith, faith in response to the extravagant sacrifice, grace, and mercy of God.

In this parable, the king freely forgives an enormous debt, releasing the slave from what is owed. The king’s forgiving release stops what would be a cascade of destruction for the slave and his whole family. Instead of destruction, the king’s forgiveness creates a new future for generations. Instead of a story of tragic loss and imprisonment, the king’s forgiveness becomes a testimony of extravagant sacrifice, grace, and mercy.

The slave’s debt was far beyond repayment, so far that we question how this enormous debt could have been accumulated in the first place. One talent is equal to 6,000 days’ work, almost 16 ½ years, a lifetime of work in the ancient world. 10,000 talents are equivalent to a lifetime of work of 10,000 people. (60 million days’ work or 200,000 years of work) The slave’s debt could be seen as the loss of earnings for an entire community for an entire generation.

Instead of remembering the king’s extravagant gift of forgiveness, instead of becoming a powerful witness and testimony to that gift himself, instead of imitating the king to stop a destructive cascade of revenge and resentment, the slave withholds forgiveness from his fellow slave. A denarii is nothing compared to a talent. It’s only a day’s wage. The debt of 100 denarii could’ve been paid back in a few months.   

The king hears of the slave’s hard-hearted response and says, “Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?” The answer is obviously, “yes.”

It’s never forgive and forget, it’s forgive and remember. We remember the extravagant forgiveness we’ve received and pay it forward.

It’s never forgive and forget, it’s forgive and release.

  • We release the need for revenge, ending the destructive cascade of punishment and payback.
  • We release the poison of resentment, ending the destructive cycle of reliving the event again and again and again, of feeding the wound, of allowing the wrong to continue to influence our motivations and choices.

Why 77 times? (or 70 x 7)

  • Because we’ll find that many reasons not to forgive.
  • Because it may take that many times to go through the motions before we do it from the heart.
  • Because we release the resentment, pick it up again, and need to let it go again.
  • Because the real work of forgiving is not just forgiving once but staying forgiving, like continuing to breathe.
  • Because only after seventy-seven times do we begin to comprehend how infinitely we are forgiven.
Lisa Degrenia

Lisa Degrenia is an ordained pastor currently serving Coronador Community United Methodist Church. Lisa studied at the University of South Florida and received her Masters of Divinity from Duke Divinity School. She’s served congregations in Largo, St. Petersburg, DeBary, and Sarasota. 


In addition to serving as a pastor, Lisa enjoys leading retreats, photography, theatre, travel, and writing. She is indebted to the many wonderful mentors and teachers in her life, including her mother who first gave her a love for words.

Lisa met her beloved husband Ed on a trip to NYC and they were married ten months later. They are blessed with two grown daughters, two sons-in-love, one new grandchild, and two dogs. You can find more of her work at https://revlisad.com/

Sermon Resources

Key Quote

Philip Yancey

In the final analysis, forgiveness is an act of faith. By forgiving another, I am trusting that God is a better justice-maker than I am. By forgiving, I release my own right to get even and leave all issues of fairness for God to work out. I leave in God’s hands the scales that must balance justice and mercy.

The Scandal of Forgiveness: Grace Put to the Test (Zondervan, 2021)

Key Sermon Illustration

Clenched Fists

Clench your hands together. How does that feel? Allow persons to answer for themselves. The answers might be tight, closed, painful, etc.

Unforgiveness is like clenched hands. We choose to hold on to revenge and resentment. We can’t receive with clenched hands. We can’t pass anything along with clenched hands.

Now release your hands. How does that feel? Allow persons to answer for themselves.

This is forgiveness. Release. We open ourselves to receiving forgiveness and passing it on.  

Lisa Degrenia, www.revlisd.com

Additional Sermon Resources