Before dawn, before the first cocks of Samaria began to crow, we got up and resumed our trip to the south, toward Jerusalem. It was a cool morning. The clouds in the east were tinged with red, announcing a radiant day….
Magdalene: Ahemmmmm….! What’s the matter, Peter?… Did you sleep well?
Peter: Not a wink. What does it matter to you, Magdalene?…. Who told you to meddle in my life?
Magdalene: What a creep!…. Look, I am what I am and I’m concerned with people…
Peter: Hey, look, don’t deny it anymore… Those two, James and John, must have told you to talk to me….. asking me to forget and forgive, right?
Magdalene: Man, will you stop being furious?
Peter: I’ll do whatever pleases me, do you hear? And tell those damned sons of Zebedee I’m not called a “rock” for nothing. No way will I relent because of their sweet words.
During that long morning walk, Peter didn’t utter a single word. What transpired the night before in Ginae with my mother, Salome, had got the better of him. The rest of us didn’t talk much, either… We arrived in Shechem at noon, and there we had lunch.
Philip: Hey, M’am Salome, where are those dates you brought along? The worms must be feasting on them by now….
Magdalene: It must be Peter’s tongue that’s pushing up daisies…. Don’t you see how quiet this big nose has become…..?
Nathanael: Young lady, will you stop provoking? Something terrible might happen here….
Magdalene: Ha! Nothing will happen, I assure you… I know this won’t go too far!.
James: Isn’t this fish really delicious? You salted it just right, momma….. Here, have some more, Peter….. Peter?…
Peter: Eat it yourself, James, and may the devil make a fish bone get stuck in your throat!
James: But Peter, why don’t you open your eyes so you’ll understand….?
Peter: What is it that I should understand, you red head?
James: I’ve explained it to you already….
Magdalene: Oh, here we go again. What happened last night is all over. Are we going to start again?
Simon: You’d better shut up, Magdalene. If you were not what you are now, things wouldn’t have become so muddled up……
Magdalene: Oh really? So I’m the one to blame for all your squabbles, is that it? Well, paisano, that’s not true!
Andrew: You mean you believe the stories of M’am Salome? You should know her better! Those stupid stories should be ignored, Simon!
John: Wait a minute, Andrew, don’t you ever call my mother stupid, do you hear? No one here should call her stupid, do you hear?
Matthew: You talk like a brave man…. later you’ll run for your life like a rabbit, John…. and you know what I mean! Ha!
John: Don’t push me to the wall, Matthew, you wouldn’t like what you’d hear, you leech!
Thomas: Gg-g-guys, stop b-b-bla-mm-ing each o-o-ther…… we..ss-sshouldn’t b-be t-t-thro-w-wing stones at one a-a-no-nother!
Simon: Just shut up, will you, Thomas, and don’t dip your finger into this mess!
Judas: Damn it, I’m sick and tired of all these gossips and intrigues!
John: Are you saying I’m a rumor-monger, Judas?
Judas: Yeah, that’s what you are, John! Remember our trip to the north! You made up stories like Nathanael was a coward, that Philip was more stubborn than an ass….
Philip: You said that about me, John?… You should be ashamed of yourself! Say that again to my face, I dare you!
Nathanael: Shut up, Philip, leave everything to Judas. C’mon, Judas, out with it! Things should not go on like this. Let’s get things clear!
James: Don’t be silly, Nathanael. Isn’t it obvious that Judas is accusing my brother to win Peter’s sympathy? Can’t you see the plan?
Judas: What the hell are you talking about, you dope? Why should I win myself over Peter? Do you think all of us are like you, rubbing elbows, to win the sympathy of important people?
James: Then you’re worse, Judas Iscariot, because you lick their asses to get what you want!
Jesus: Stop it everyone, damn it! Can’t we have at least of moment of peace to eat our dates? We’re killing each other here! We don’t even need Herod’s soldiers nor those Romans to do it…
James: You, too, shut up, Jesus. There’s no use defending Judas!
Peter: You shut your mouth, James, and don’t save your skin! This is all your fault, big mouth!
James: No, no, you’re the only one to blame for this, Peter, no one else!
Peter: You’re right, red head. I want to strangle you!
Peter leaped over Matthew and Thomas, pounced on my brother James and grabbed him on the neck… He unleashed all the fury raging quietly inside him since last night.
Magdalene: They’re killing each other! They’re killing each other!
John: For God’s sake, keep them apart!
Some of us pulled Peter away, while the others worked on James. Since they were already too enraged, soon enough we were all caught in the fight, and everyone, no more, no less, got his share of the blows in that sea of fury.
The storm lasted long enough. Finally we got back to our senses… That was not the first time we had a squabble, and we knew damned well it wouldn’t be the last…. Anyway, we resumed our trip and by the time we reached the elevation of Siloh, everything was forgotten and we were laughing again and teasing one another. Only Peter continued with his grumbling.
Peter: No, no, no! Never will I look at his face again, ever. For me, he’s dead and should be buried.
Jesus: Peter, please, listen to me: if among ourselves, we continue to kill each other and remain divided, then what can we expect from the ones on top?
Peter: Look Jesus, this wasn’t the first time it happened. Remember the incident in the wharf a month ago? It’s the same old banana, you know. I can’t stand this red head and the little squirt anymore!
Jesus: That’s all over, Peter.
Peter: Yeah, it’s all over, but it’ll happen again. I forgave him once, all right, but I’m not sure next time…. and….
Jesus: You’ll have to forgive him again, and again, for seven times…. even seventy times seven. Always.
Peter: Oh, yeah? Isn’t that funny? And may I know why I should tolerate the stupidity of this rascal?
Jesus: Because… because a grain of sand is nothing compared to a mountain.
Jesus: The kingdom of King Shaddai was enormous like the Great Sea. One had to undertake a hundred journeys to go from one end of the territory to another. In order to manage the affairs of the kingdom, he had assigned officials all over the provinces who were tasked to distribute the money of the kingdom… Some of these officials, however, were crooks, as in the case of Neriah….
Neriah: Here, cross-eyed,…. take it….
Cross-eyed man: But, Neriah, this is too much dough….. What if they find out?
Neriah: C’mon, take it and leave the country at once!…. And don’t get yourself caught!…. I’ll come back tomorrow!
Jesus: Neriah came back the next day, and the succeeding days. He always left the office with a sackful of money under his tunic and gave it to his accomplice, the man with the crossed eyes.
Neriah: At last, the days of poverty are over! Soon, you’ll be a millionaire, Neriah, you’ll be richer than the king!
A soldier: You’re under arrest, Neriah!
Soldier: You’re a thief, a smuggler, damn you! I’ll bring you before the king, and when he finds out what you have stolen, he’ll have you beheaded, scoundrel! C’mon!
King: What! One hundred million dinarii! Do you realize what you have stolen, Neriah? Why, that’s even greater than Mt. Ararat! Even if you work like a beast all your life, you won’t be able to pay me back. Summon the executioner and have this devil beheaded!
Neriah: No, no, no! Take pity on me, King Shaddai! Have compassion and forgive me!… I’m asking your forgiveness, please pardon me!!
King: Very well. You will not die. But tomorrow, before dawn, you will be sold as a slave; your wife and your children too. That’s the least that you deserve for being such a thief!
Neriah: No, no! Have pity on me, King Shaddai! I… I… didn’t know what I was doing.
King: You didn’t know what you were doing….?
Neriah: Well, I knew, but….. forgive me just the same!
Jesus: Since the king was a good man and had a heart bigger than his immense kingdom, even bigger than the debt of his official, he pardoned him.
King: Well, then, Neriah. I forgive you. Go back to your post. Your debt has been written off and I’ll forget all about it.
Cross-eyed man: How fortunate can you get, Neriah! You were born with a lucky star, wretch!
Neriah: Boy, am I lucky, but penniless, with not even a single cent to buy me some dates.
Cross-eyed man: Man, you should be happy…. You could have lost your neck…. Money is the least of your problems, you know…
Neriah: Oh yeah? So, it’s the least problem, huh? Then, pay what you owe me. If I remember right, I lent you a hundred dinarii…
Cross-eyed: Bah, that was a long time ago, long before my eyes got twisted like this!
Neriah: They’ll get all the more cross-eyed if you don’t pay me back!
Cross-eyed: Okay, Neriah, I’ll pay you when I get my wages….
Neriah: No way. I need that money now, do you hear? Right now!
Cross-eyed: But wait….. man….. it can’t be now…. Ahhggg….!
Jesus: Neriah rushed toward this fellow and grabbed him by the neck with all his strength….
Cross-eyed: Ahhgg…. I ain’t got the money now….. wait…. please…. listen to me…
Neriah: I can’t wait, dammit! Either you pay me now or you go to jail!!
Cross-eyed: Please have pity on me…. have pity on me…!
Jesus: But Neriah had no compassion for the guy and had him sent to jail.
A soldier: And that’s the story, my King… First, he dragged the cross-eyed man to the city and had him imprisoned…
King: Go get Neriah and bring him back here! Now he will know who I am! He owed me a hundred million dinarii and yet I pardoned him! Why couldn’t he do the same to him who owed him only a hundred bucks?
Peter: How did the story end, Jesus?
Jesus: Well, the king got so furious he sent Neriah to jail.
Peter: Right. If I had been the king, I would’ve grabbed this man and torn him to pieces!
Jesus: Really?…. But that man is you, Peter. You’ve become like Neriah.
Peter: Me..? Oh, of course….. I know where that leads to…..
Jesus: Look…. You and James and all of us owe the Lord a lot of debts and he forgives us all of them. Yet, we can’t forgive the small things that other people owe us.
Peter snorted, then quickened his pace…. For sometime, he continued to sulk. But later, before sunset, he approached my brother James and started talking to him, and they ended up making peace with one another. The truth is that, with Jesus, we learned to overlook each other’s mistakes, so that the Lord would also forget our own mistakes.
In our day-to-day interaction with each other, a little argument may easily generate into a quarrel, where long time grudges and misunderstandings may surface. This is perfectly logical. This is part of human interaction. And Jesus’ disciples were not spared these conflicts. On account of the social class they belonged to, their varied personalities, the situation they found themselves in, ever since they joined Jesus – perilous and uncertain – and the very testimony of the gospel (Mt 20:24; Lk 22:24), it was most likely that the disciples would get entangled in arguments similar to what appear in this episode.
Number seven was a very important number in the world of the Israelites. Its origin can be traced to the observation of the four phases of the moon, each of which lasted seven days. Thus, the Israelites began to associate number seven with a complete cycle. Number seven became synonymous with plenitude, with something complete and finished. For Israel, number seven signifies totality, and given a theological context, the totality desired by God. Thus, the order of time was based on seven (the Sabbath, the sacred day, would come every seven days). The temple’s candleholder had seven arms, etc. For example, the Hebrew verb “jurar” literally means “sietearse,” that is, having as witnesses the seven powers of heaven and earth. Number seven is therefore, a round number. To forgive “seven” times means to forgive “everything” completely. It’s like saying “Let’s wipe the slate clean and let’s start anew.” To drive home this point, Jesus tells Peter to forgive “seventy times seven.” Seventy is a combination of 7 and 10. If number seven meant plenitude and totality, number 10 (its origin is traced to the ten fingers of the hand) likewise had the nature of a round number, although to a lesser degree. “Seventy time seven” means always, in all occasions, without exception, etc.
The parable of “the unmerciful servant” is typically oriental in its exaggeration about the use of figures representing one’s debts. Ten thousand talents is equivalent to one hundred million dinarii. That is, the salary of a hundred million work sessions. It is a gigantic amount, unrealistic and unimaginable. This intensely emphasizes the contrast with the measly sum of a hundred dinarii, the small amount owed by one of the characters in the episode. Rather than present an incident in Palestine, Jesus, in this parable, refers to a foreign king in the style of those great sovereigns of the Orient. This is seen for example, in the order given by the king to sell the wife and children of the debtor, a custom that was not Israelite, or in the act of sending him to prison as payment for his debts, a law that did not exist in the Jewish legal system..
In Jesus’ time, the writings of the rabbis about the final judgment always referred to the two measures employed by the Lord in ruling the world: One, the use of mercy; the other, that of justice. In the end the rabbis would claim “mercy vanishes, compassion appears too remote and benevolence just fades away.” Only pure justice remains. Jesus totally transformed this theological idea prevalent in his time. He showed us that even mercy, God’s forgiveness, can be valid at the final hour of reckoning, though he added one decisive factor. It shall only be granted to those who have learned to forgive, who, knowing they have been forgiven, have had compassion for the others. And they who have underestimated God’s pardon shall be meted full justice. Such measure is what we set for ourselves as we pray the Lord’s prayer “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
Forgiveness among men and women is basic in the gospel. When we forgive, we undertake a risk. Jesus, in the act of forgiving, risked his trust in someone, hoping this gesture would be a call to his conscience, that he might reform his ways. That was what he did to Matthew, to Magdalene, to Zaccheus, and to Nicodemus…. He created a new relationship with them, setting aside all prejudices, forgiving the past to attain a different future. It deals with a positive attitude toward men and women, something that is profoundly optimistic: Evil will never have the last word, and humans are capable of transformation. This is forgiveness in the Christian sense, completely trusting one another – but never naive – and entrusting in them the others’ hope of the community.
It is not easy to talk about forgiveness and reconciliation if we leave the community of our brothers and sisters and situate ourselves in a society where inequality and injustice exist. The message of reconciliation in the gospel has almost always been used as a factor in alienation. Christian love is struggle, denunciation and criticism, but we must know how to overcome the vicious circle of bitter revenge and retaliation. Through our capacity to forgive, we must set forth a new era of justice in a new society.