Rabbi Yeshua compared a man’s sins to debts owed to God and to others, and He compared sins committed against a man to debts others owed him. Debt symbolizes sin and guilt. The remission of debt symbolizes the forgiveness of sins. Aramaic uses the same word (chovah, חובה) for both “debt” and “sin,” making the metaphor particularly apt.
The Master solemnly warned us that if we do not forgive men when they sin against us, God will not forgive us when we petition Him for forgiveness. Disciples of Yeshua have no options in the matter of whether or not to forgive:
For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. (Matthew 6:14-15)
We do not have the luxury of holding grudges, nursing bitterness, or retaining resentments for personal offenses. We are not privileged to retain our anger or to repay evil committed against our person with evil. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Mathew 5:7).
The forgiveness principle operates on the biblical concept of “measure for measure.” Rabbi Yeshua illustrated the point in Matthew 18 with the parable of the indebted servant. With the same measure we use, it will be measured to us. Just as the indebted servant did not forgive the small debt of his fellow servant, the king refused to forgive his great debt. The concept of forgiveness on the basis of measure-for-measure occurs frequently in rabbinic literature:
Whoever refrains from exacting his measure, the heavenly court forgives his sins, as it is written [in Micah 7:18], “Who pardons iniquity and passes over the rebellious act.” Whose sin does he forgive? One who passes over sins.” (b.Rosh Hashanah 17a)
He who is merciful to others, mercy is shown to him by Heaven, while he who is not merciful to others, mercy is not shown to him by Heaven. (b.Shabbat 151b)
He who is merciful to men, toward him God is merciful in heaven. (b.Sanhedrin 51b)
James the brother of the Master explains, “Judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy [but] mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). Jewish wisdom tradition also conveys the same sentiment. The teaching about forgiveness also finds a parallel in a collection of proverbs compiled more than a century earlier by another Jewish man named Yeshua (Yeshua ben Sira):
Forgive your neighbor the offense he has committed against you, so too shall your sins be forgiven when you pray. Can a man bear hatred against another and seek forgiveness from the Lord? Can a man be merciless toward another man like himself and then ask forgiveness for his own sins? (Sirach 28:2-4)