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490, and Beyond April 10, 2008

Posted by docgrubb in christianity, religion.
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     Our pastor is working his way through Mark’s gospel on Sunday mornings.  This past Lord’s Day homily was on chapter 11, verse 25: “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”  A hard saying that – that the unforgiving risk being unforgiven.  But this post will not try to repeat his excellent message.  This post is not even about the subject of forgiveness directly.  A later one might be, but not this one.

     One of the pastor’s subsequent citations was Matthew 18:22.  I’ll start with v. 21:  “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?  Up to seven times?’

     22 Jesus answered, ‘ I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.’ ”  Then Christ goes on to relate the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.  Now, I shall not attempt to exegete these verses.  But I will share what, later on, struck me most about this exchange between Peter and Christ.  Quite simply, it was this: verse 22 might well be the shortest argument available that Christ was indeed who He claimed to be, the Son of God.  Who else could dream up such an outlandish maxim?  A wholly non-human concept, he commands the offended to forgive repeatedly, even, apparently, for the same recurring offense.  And He doesn’t mean up to 490 times, but beyond.  For, as commentators note, these numbers signify completeness multiplied, or times without number.  This is consistent only with a God-like characteristic or attribute, not a human inclination.  If the disciples or apostles or their cohorts were conspiring to invent a religion, or to “make all this up”, they would never in a thousand years come up with something so revolutionary or unimaginable as this: to forgive your oppressor with….abandon

     Consider Matthew, the author, or rather reporter, of these verses.  He was a tax collector for the occupying Roman authorities.  Integrity-wise, he was, before he met Jesus, the modern equivalent of the used-car salesman.  Would he have come up with this maxim, and offered it to his co-conspirators?  If you believe that, or believe it possible of any of his fellows – fishermen, tent-makers, and the like – then you are more credulous by far than any Christian who believes in miracles, resurrection, and heaven.  For it is far simpler to believe that a God who makes quasars and supernovae can also handle loaves and fishes than it is to believe that a motley band of ancient mideastern peasants so aptly (yet fictitiously) painted the personality of the Divine. 

     Let me further illustrate by offering a comparision.   I am no expert on the Koran.  But I found this excerpt today, and I’ll mainly let it speak for itself.  Referring to those who would slander even charitable believers:  009.080 “Whether thou ask for their forgiveness, or not, (their sin is unforgivable): if thou ask seventy times for their forgiveness, God will not forgive them: because they have rejected God and His Apostle: and God guideth not those who are perversely rebellious.”  The way I read this is, even if you ask Allah seventy times to forgive those who have slandered righteous men, he will not.  Here the human appears to be more merciful than Deity, interceding for slanderers, but being rebuffed.  This is totally opposite the Biblical version, where God implores His creation, man, to be as forgiving as He is.  The polarity is very striking.  “He hid not His face from shame and spitting”.  And yet for those mockers: “Father, forgive them…”  

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