This chapter is all about discipleship and one key attribute of the disciple: the willingness to forgive. Not only was repentance and forgiveness the very center of Jesus’s ministry, it will also be the center of the Apostle’s ministry, entrusted to the Church, after Jesus’s Ascension.
The whole chapter, really, is a gentle admonishment to the disciples about mercy, forgiveness and repentance. This is one of those chapters that can be read over and over again and memorized: mercy and forgiveness are essential elements to discipleship to Jesus.
The parable of the Lost Sheep (vv. 10-14) is a beautiful exposition on the passion of our Lord for his people: a Shepherd who is willing to leave the 99 to go in search of the 1 that has wondered away. It’s beautiful to think that the Lord would be willing to do this for someone. And even more beautiful to realize that at one time or another, we are the 1 Lost Sheep and that he has already done it for us.
Jesus’s exchange with Peter (vv. 21-22) followed by the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (vv. 23-35) brings into stark relief the reality of the great Beatitude: Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy (5:7). Not only does this parable represent God’s lavish mercy for his sons and daughters, but it’s also a parable that represents the way in which we should be merciful with those who do wrong to us. Remember the line from the Our Father: “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (6:12). That’s a contingent statement: the adverb as is the most important word in that sentence!
Point for Prayer
“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me. Whoever lives so as to imitate Christ’s humility and innocence, in him Christ is taken up. And he is careful to add—so that when the apostles heard of it, they would not think that they had been honored—that they would not be taken up for their merit but for the honor of the master” (St. Jerome, from his Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew).