Picture this: A man, deeply in hock, goes to see the loan shark. He drops to his knees and begs for patience. “If you just give me a little more time, I swear, I will pay you back!” The man’s empty billfold lies open on the floor, and the loan shark sees the pictures of wife and little children. Oddly enough, he takes pity on the man. Some weak spot way back in the recesses of his heart is touched, and the loan shark relents. “You have a wife. Children. I’m going to do something for you. I’m wiping the slate clean. Forget the money. You don’t owe me anything. Now go. Get outa here!”

The man is shocked! But he doesn’t dare wait around to see if the loan shark will change his mind. So he bows and scrapes and repeats, “thank you” over and over as he hurts out of the room. The second he exits the building, he turns and runs smack into his neighbor…who owes him 50 bucks. The man grabs the neighbor by the shirt collar and demands the money. But when the neighbor asks for more time, the man refuses, and beats him silly in the street.

This story should sound a little familiar to you. It is the story on forgiveness that Jesus told in Matthew 18, tweaked Mary-style.

I couldn’t tell you how many times I have read or heard this story. Always with the same response. Wow, that guy had a lot of nerve. Actually, he’s kind of a jerk. Here his debt is totally wiped clean, and yet he thinks he can turn around and demand the debt owed to him with no grace or patience what-so-ever. He didn’t deserve to have his own debt cleared.

Of course, in Jesus’ story, the man gets found out by his master and sent to jail…and of course, Jesus is not really talking about a debt of money. He is talking about a debt of sin, and we are the man who is forgiven, but refuses to forgive. The thing is that this should not be just a story that we sit back and say wow at the audacity of a man. We must realize that forgiveness is not an option for us. When we accepted the forgiveness of Christ, we gave up the right to bare a grudge against anyone else.

Anger, frustration, bitterness, resentment…unforgiveness. When we are hurt, no matter how deeply, we tend to want to hold on to that hurt in one form or another. It is so easy, too. Far easier than dealing with the hurt head on. And certainly more desirable than actually forgiving. But we started this life with a debt there was no way we could pay, and death was the only way out. Thankfully, God had mercy on us and forgave that debt. How can we, then, hold debt over the head of others who are no better or worse than ourselves? We can’t. We have no right to. Forgiveness is not just the nice thing to do. It is not just the right thing to do. It is the only choice for those of us who have already been forgiven.