The Lord often requires us to do things that we think sound impossible. Forgive seventy times seven? This does not mean 490 times, but boundless forgiveness, that we travel with forgiveness for those who have wronged us. Forgiveness is not always easy, especially when we have been deeply hurt or wronged or if we live in a situation where we are poorly treated continually, but the Lord’s command to forgive is one that can free and heal our hearts and cultivate boundless love for our neighbors.
Welcome to Meridian Magazine’s Come Follow Me Podcast. We are Scot and Maurine Proctor and today’s study is on “What Shall I Do to Inherit Eternal Life?” including Matthew, chapter 18 and Luke chapter10.
You can find all of these at ldsmag.com/podcast and to get an approximate transcript in your email sign up for Meridian Magazine at the same address, ldsmag.com/signup
In Matthew 18, Peter comes to the Lord with a compelling question.
21 ¶ Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I aforgive him? till seven times?
22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until aseventy times seven.
Peter gives a gracious answer. Forgiveness is not always easy, especially when we have been deeply hurt or wronged or if we live in a situation where we are poorly treated continually. The wrong that someone does to us can have deep consequences for us, not only in damaging the way we view ourselves, but also in thwarting our future or hurting someone we love. Wounds inflicted on us can leave deep scars and do lasting damage.
But Jesus gives even a higher standard which is seventy times seven. This does not mean 490 times, but boundless forgiveness, that we travel with forgiveness for those who have wronged us. Total, complete forgiveness. Always. The Lord says in Doctrine and Covenants 64:10, “I the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” That is a very tough standard and developmentally difficult.
It is a standard given to us because God loves us, and doesn’t want our life twisted in resentment or blame.
What’s more, though, Jesus is telling us something about Himself with this command to Peter. Jesus is the 70 times 7 forgiving God.
This does not mean that we need to put ourselves in the position where we are vulnerable to abuse. Or that we expose ourselves to being continually wronged. I like what Elder David E. Sorensen of the Seventy taught, “I would like to make it clear that forgiveness of sins should not be confused with tolerating evil…Although we must forgive a neighbor who injures us, we should still work constructively to prevent that injury from being repeated.” David E. Sorensen “Forgiveness Will Change Bitterness to Love,” Ensign, May 2003, 12.)
It does mean that he is asking a standard of us that will bring us health and well-being. This is a commandment for our happiness. When we don’t forgive, the one who is hurt is us. We carry this resentment like a shadow in our hearts, a pall over our well-being. We replay the scenes when we were hurt over and over, reminding ourselves how injured we are, therefore hurting ourselves all over again. We think if we let go of resentment that other person won’t get his or her just desserts. We see ourselves as a victim. In reality, when we forgive, we are the ones who are healed. The heavy backpack is taken off of us.
So the Lord gives this wonderful story from Matthew 18: 23-34.
23 ¶ Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would atake account of his bservants.
24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.
What is ten thousand talents?
A talent was a weight of gold of silver. If it were gold, for instance, it would be about 75 pounds of gold. Let’s give you a sense of what that would be. At the March 2019 spot price or gold, a talent of gold would be worth about one and a half million dollars. In ancient times, the amount of silver was often worth more than the price of gold. So think about a 10,000 talent debt, if one talent is worth that much.
This was a debt that was impossible to pay. Astronomical.
Because the servant fell down and pled, “Lord, have patience with me,” the “Lord of the servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.”
Then, however, that “same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him aan hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.
29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
So the first servant who owed such a staggering amount would not forgive the debt of the second who only owed one hundred pence. The unit of money in biblical times would have been denarii. He owed 100 denarii. A denarius was one day’s pay for a laborer who worked six days a week and took the Sabbath off. 100 denarii would have been four months of wages for him.
A writer made this comparison—
“Now suppose you continued to work as a day laborer earning 300 denarii each year. After 20 years of such labor, you will have earned 6,000 denarii.
At this point, the king would say to his debtor, “Congratulations. You have worked for 20 years and have now earned 6,000 denarii. That’s enough to pay back one talent. You only have 9,999 more talents to go.”
“From this, we can easily see that if it takes 20 years to earn one talent, then repaying 10,000 talents would require working 200,000 YEARS! How absurd then for the servant to beg for mercy and tell the king that he would ‘pay back everything.’ As a day laborer, he had no hope—almost literally ‘not in a million years’—of ever repaying his debt.” https://chimesnewspaper.com/13189/opinions/parable-two-debtors/
The point is really interesting here. This story features a king who is not nearly so merciful as Christ who is still willing to forgive an enormous debt, while we are only asked to forgive much lesser ones.
This tells us something about the nature of God. We have a Lord who forgives us 70 times 7 and forgives astronomical debts like 10,000 talents to the humble and penitent. It makes us love Him all the more when we understand that. It is His nature to forgive and have compassion on us.
Forgiving is sometimes easier to say than to do.
But I remember what Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught us about the nature of God: “ the first great truth of all eternity is that God loves us with all of His heart, might, mind, and strength. That love is the foundation stone of eternity, and it should be the foundation stone of our daily life.” (Pure Love: The True Sign of Every True Disciple of Jesus Christ, April 2018)
That gives me such hope.
One therapist spoke of a woman who had been betrayed by her husband in marriage who said with tears running down her cheeks. “I know I need to forgive, but how do I do it? My heart does not seem to let go.”
Sometimes our forgiving someone who has wronged us demands fasting and prayer so that the Lord can give us His strength in this battle that is so hard to do alone. It is a process. It means allowing the Lord to comfort us in that injury so we can let it go.
Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch, Christian woman whose family hid Jews in their house during World War II. Discovered, they were sent to a concentration camp. Her father and her beloved sister, Betsie both died in the camps.
She tells this story about forgiveness in her book The Hiding Place.
“It was in a church in Munich that I saw him, a balding heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear.
“It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.
“It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favorite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I liked to think that that’s where forgiven sins were thrown.
‘When we confess our sins,’ I said, ‘God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever.’
“The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe,” she said. “There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room.
“And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones.
“It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!
“This man had been a guard at Ravensbrück concentration camp where we were sent.
“Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: ‘A fine message, fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’
“And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course–how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?
“But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. It was the first time since my release that I had been face to face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.
“’You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,’ he was saying. ‘I was a guard in there.’ No, he did not remember me.
“’But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein’–again the hand came out–‘will you forgive me?’
“And I stood there–I whose sins had every day to be forgiven–and could not. Betsie had died in that place–could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
“It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
“For I had to do it–I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. ‘If you do not forgive men their trespasses,’ Jesus says, ‘neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.’
“I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality.
“Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.
“And still,” she said, “I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion–I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.
“’Jesus, help me!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’
“And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“’I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’”
Many of us have had experiences where we had to forgive someone who hurt us deeply. We might not have even known that we could be wounded so severely. Some people who are in our lives continue to hurt us. They may be family members. I have learned that there are many times I can’t forgive as I want to without the Lord’s help. The scar is just too severe.
We take this to the Lord, asking Him to help us give up resentment and pain. We ask Him to help us see the offender as He does. We may not be able to forgive as we want to immediately, but we can decide to be willing and let the Lord work with us. We say, I am willing to forgive. When we take that desire to the Lord, He binds our heart and makes forgiveness possible.
[A friend told a story where he was at the death bed of his wife’s ex-husband. He knew he had some resentment toward the dying man. His lack of good fathering had greatly impacted the children, and it was our friend had to deal with the residual problems. His wife had been pained and hurt again and again by this man when he was her husband. Our friend thought with a bit of bitterness, “I wonder what it will be like when he enters paradise.” The Spirit answered, “He will be told, welcome home.”
In a minute all the grief and pain he had felt toward this former husband was lifted and our friend was able to forgive him. It was the Lord who made that possible.]
One woman wrote:
[There was a time when I felt ill-used and slighted by someone who should have treated me well. This poor treatment impacted how I saw myself, diminishing me. I could feel resentment smoldering inside of me for a few days and I told the Lord. “I don’t want to feel this way. I want to forgive him.” That very night the Spirit just whispered a scripture to my heart that completely lifted my pain and suddenly forgiveness was no longer hard.]
The Lord asks us to forgive because He knows how to help us through that process.
The Good Samaritan—Luke 10:25-37
Next comes a story we know well, but there is more to it than we sometimes see.
A certain lawyer came to Jesus and asked, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
Jesus answers with a profound summation of the gospel, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy aheart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.”
So, of course, the lawyer has to ask, “Who is my neighbor?” You wonder if he was hoping to hear a restricted answer—that there might be very few he was required to love like that.
The Lord responds with a story about a man on the road to Jericho who is stripped, beaten and left for dead. A priest and a Levite come by and sidestep this poor soul, leaving him there to die but then a Samaritan comes along, binds his wounds, puts him on his own donkey and takes him to an inn where he can be healed. The Samaritan pays the bill and says he’ll pay more if it is needed.
It is pointed that the Samaritan is made the hero of the story. To a Jew he was an outsider, the hated, the heathen, the brazen Samaritan who lived a tainted religion. “He that eats the bread of the Samaritans,” the Mishna declares, “is like to one that eats the flesh of swine.” If the beaten man were to awake and see it was a Samaritan who helped him, the Samaritan might receive a spit in the eye for his thanks.
Among other things, the Lord is teaching us that everyone is our neighbor, every human being on this earth. The refugee is our neighbor. The sinner is our neighbor. People who disagree with us are our neighbors. People who don’t look like us are our neighbors. People who don’t believe as we do are our neighbors. We are to regard people with love and shared humanity, no matter who they are. And we need to pray to have the eyes to see who needs us. It could be someone right at hand as well as a stranger on the road.
You always remember those times when you are able to serve others for the lift it gives you, and you always remember when someone helped you when you really needed it.
Jordan story and the man who helped us to the freeway.
I would not recognize that man if I saw him again. He helped us without any hope of return. We were foreigners to him who did not speak his language. He gave up his most precious asset, which was his time, to help us, people he would never see again. It warms my heart to this day.
Another way to see the story.
Here’s another way of seeing the story of the Good Samaritan.
We have heard the story of the Good Samaritan[i] so often that we suppose we know its entire meaning, but in a world where all things testify of Christ, we may have missed something tucked into this story like a hidden jewel.
We know there was a man on the road to Jericho—and already the story yields a secret. A visitor to Israel knows that the road to Jericho is a steep descent. It is, in fact, that road from Jerusalem to Jericho that winds down a parched and treeless wilderness, inhospitable and thirsty, with a relentless, burning sun.
Jerusalem was a sacred city with its irreplaceable temple at its heart, the Holy of Holies at its very center. When the temple was not defiled, it was the House of the Lord, his home on earth. Jericho, in contrast, represented the world with Herod’s lavish pleasure palace at its center and the Mt. of Temptation not far away.
The difference in elevation between Jerusalem and Jericho is stark and happens quickly. Jerusalem is at 2582 feet and Jericho is 800 feet below sea level. The plunging road to Jericho abruptly covers the more than 3300 vertical feet between them.
The man on this road, then, is making a steep descent into the world.
Who is the Man?
Who is this man? He is not given a name or an ethnicity, a country or identity. He is just an unknown man who is making a descent. When we first encounter him on this road all we know for certain is that he has been beaten, stripped, wounded and left for dead. He has no identifying marks that we should know him.
I have often asked classes when I teach this story, who is the man? At first, most don’t know and there are many guesses. Is he a Jew? a Samaritan? a random traveler?
I ask again, “Who has made a descent from a holier place to the world? Who has fallen among thieves?”
It doesn’t take long for everyone to see. It is us. We are the man. The man stands for every mortal person who is making a journey on a dangerous road, and is inevitably wounded.
It is not just some of us who are beaten and wounded, but all who take this mortal journey.
We have made a descent, and while we cheered in the pre-mortal world for this opportunity, sometimes all we feel is the emptiness and loss of something vanished. We feel too often that we are strangers and wanderers here and that we are yearning for something that nothing on this earth can ever satisfy. It is a pang of heart sickness, a stab of longing, the sense that we have been banished from a bright light or exiled from home—as if we accidentally went wandering away from our truest self and familiar touchstones and forgot the way back.
The next question then is who are the thieves?
Who are the Thieves?
The road to Jericho is twisted, turning between empty hills that yield many places for thieves to hide, especially if you are traveling alone as our man was in the story.
Thieves could be hiding around any corner ready to jump the weary traveler. Who and what are the thieves?
What wounds and assaults us? What strips us and leaves us vulnerable? What are the forces that leave us half-dead, lying on the road with total dehydration only a step away?
As it turns out, our thieves are many in mortality. We are beaten and wounded on every side. Turn in any direction and there is a thief. Some of these thieves are outside of us, things that happen to us. We may be the victim of someone else’s agency. Our good health may be shattered in a day. Someone we love may be taken. Our best dreams may be withered in the harsh light of life’s journey. We may be betrayed, assaulted, disappointed, embarrassed. We may feel unloved and unlovable.
Each has a signature journey, but each finds that we sometimes wander into astonishing heartache—or sometimes live with it as a constant. Who planned for the early loss of a parent? What happy endings could there be with chronic illness or abuse? How do you plan to have your dearest hopes dashed? How do you square with the sense that you are not becoming what you thought you were to be? What do you do with penury and fear? How can you reconcile giving your life to a child who then turns and tramples everything you sought to teach her?
That bright spirit we carried from the world before may be dashed with self-consciousness and fear. There is something more to us, we know, an ancient soul of light, but we have forgotten.
Those thieves, of course, may not be all outside of us. Many of them reside inside. They are our weaknesses, our propensity for shallowness and triviality. They are our little resentments and flashes of anger.
Once we were a mighty soul, having lived and learned for who knows how long? Perhaps eons of time—in a place where time did not exist. Now we are somehow contracted, our former selves erased and only felt in eternal inklings now and then.
Mortality is our shared weakness with every member of the human race. This is a place where scales are on our eyes, blinders on our vision. We are stuck in time and have competing demands.
It is clear that you don’t get down this road to Jericho called mortality without being wounded, completely helpless to carry on in the journey.
The Priest and the Levite
The first to come upon our man who was left for dead was a priest who saw him and passed by on the other side. The priest had a very good reason to walk on by. If the beaten man was a Gentile, he was unclean; but worse yet, if he was dead, contact with him would defile a priest. A priest, defiled, could not collect, distribute, or eat the tithes, and his family would go without.
Next came a Levite, whose rules were somewhat less strict. Still, contact with a corpse, or with one who might die while he rendered aid, would be ritually defiling. Defiled, a Levite could not eat the wave offering. He, too, passed on by.
Who Was the Samaritan?
Last to come was the Samaritan who had compassion on the man, “and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.”
Who is it that stops for us when we are wounded and beaten, stripped and left as dead and forgotten on the dangerous road? Who is this Samaritan? It is, of course, Christ himself. There we are the beaten and bruised, and there he is encircling us in the robes of his righteousness. “I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love” and “encircled about with the matchless bounty of his love” (2 Nephi 1:15, Alma 5:11.)
We are given a clue that this is the Lord, himself when he pours oil into the wounds. Oil in the Middle East is used as a source of light in a dark world, a source of nutrition for the hungry, and a balm of healing for the wounded. Yet, it also is a signature of the atonement.
[Story about being in Turkey and have the man come along and pour oil into the wound.]
Gethsemane means “place of the olive press” and in that stunning atoning sacrifice, Jesus was in a garden used for an olive press. The thunderous pressure that grinds and pulverizes an olive into olive oil was a type of the pressure He knew to lift us from our beaten and wounded state.
Olive oil always signifies the atonement. When we are anointed with oil in blessings, we are anointed with his saving sacrifice. We are anointed with his life-giving and healing atonement.
So, it is the Lord himself who comes along, lifts the man on to his own beast, supporting him for his journey. He tells the innkeeper, “Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.”
The Lord’s atonement is not finite. It does not wear out as we call on this gift again and again. He has given us a continuous gift without money and without price. He will pay whatever debt we have incurred or will yet incur to heal our lacerated souls.
So many of the parables the Lord tells work on multiple levels and testify of His atonement.
Mary and Martha Luke 10: 38-42
The story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-40 is so familiar to all of us. It is the painting on our bedroom wall that greets us first thing every morning.
Mary, Martha and Lazarus were close friends of Jesus who lived in the village of Bethany on the east side of the Mount of Olives.
On one visit, Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet, drinking in his word, “but Martha was cumbered about much serving and came to him and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.”
41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art acareful and troubled about many things:
42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath achosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
Obviously both sisters are attending the Lord, one in physical, every day service, and the other in hungering for righteousness.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks said in his talk “Good, Better, Best”
“Most of us have more things expected of us than we can possibly do. As breadwinners, as parents, as Church workers and members, we face many choices on what we will do with our time and other resources.
“We should begin by recognizing the reality that just because something is good is not a sufficient reason for doing it. The number of good things we can do far exceeds the time available to accomplish them. Some things are better than good, and these are the things that should command priority attention in our lives.
“We have to forego some good things in order to choose others that are better or best because they develop faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and strengthen our families.”
Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Good, Better, Best”, Oct. 2007 https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2007/10/good-better-best?lang=eng
It is too easy for the most important things to be pushed out of our lives because we can’t seem to fit them into our “to do” list.
Elder Quentin L. Cook said, “We are often unaware of the distractions which push us in a material direction and keep us from a Christ-centered focus. In essence we let celestial goals get sidetracked by telestial distractions. In our family we call these telestial distractions ‘Saturday Morning Cartoons.’
He explained that when his children were little, he and his wife Mary, would meet with them to discuss their goals and how to work toward them. When their son Larry was five, he said his goal was to be a doctor like his Uncle Joe. Larry had had a serious operation so he had great respect for doctors.
Yet, the next time Elder Cook and his wife interviewed Larry, he had changed his mind and wanted to be a pilot, which, of course, was also a worthwhile goal.
Then Elder Cook said, “almost as an afterthought”, ‘Larry, last time we talked you wanted to be a doctor. What has changed your mind?’ He answered, “I still like the idea of being a doctor, but I have noticed that Uncle Joe works on Saturday mornings, and I wouldn’t want to miss Saturday Morning Cartoons.”
Elder Cook asked, “What are some of the Saturday Morning Cartoons that distract us from attaining the joy that we desire?
“Speaking of those who will not inherit a kingdom of glory, the Lord said, ‘For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift” (D&C 88:33). The greatest gift to all mankind is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. If we are to rejoice in this gift, we need to avoid the Saturday Morning Cartoons of life which distract our focus from the Savior and the celestial goal for which we strive.”
Elder Quentin L. Cook, “Rejoice” https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1996/10/rejoice?lang=eng
Let us choose the better part, and I bear my testimony that if we choose to know the word of the Lord and study the scriptures daily, we will have reason to rejoice.
Thanks for being with us today for this Come Follow Me podcast.
Thanks to Paul Cardall for the beautiful music that he has shared.
Our lesson next week is John 7-10 called “I am the Good Shepherd”
Tell your friends to look for this podcast on most platforms under Meridian Magazine—Come Follow Me or they can all be found at ldsmag.com/podcast
See you next week.