Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counselors, "Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?" They answered the king, "True, O king." He replied, "But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god."
Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and said, "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!" So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king's counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them.
Nebuchadnezzar said, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king's command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that utters blasphemy against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins; for there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way."
Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, within the province of Babylon.
Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?"
Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, is lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, 'Pay what you owe.' Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place Then his lord summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as had mercy on you?' And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart."
The blow to Israel's life through invasion and exile, was devastating, leaving them with "no prince, prophet or leader.. no place to find favour with you." But after such destruction the faithful survivors, like Daniel, turned back to God, unreservedly. Daniel confessed: "We have sinned and have done every kind of evil". God preserves the faithful from both the flames and the teeth of lions.
Just as Daniel and his people found their future within a renewed community, so the Gospel parable also speaks of renewal. The forgiveness one receives from God must then be offered and passed on to all our ellow human beings. "Should you not deal mercifully with your fellow servant," our Father asks, "as I dealt with you?" What we receive with gratitude builds us up; we cannot be our best unless we give share things unreservedly. The gift from God most difficult to share and bestow upon another is forgiveness; yet it's often the one of which we stand most in need. By giving we receive, and by it communion with others and with God is made. In Lent we seek forgiveness from God, but on the way we also seek to be reconciled with our immediate neighbours.
Peter has a high profile in Matthew's gospel. It is only there that Jesus addresses him as the rock on which he will build his church. It is only in Matthew that we find Peter asking the question, "Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?" In the Scriptures, seven is a symbol of fullness and completion. While to forgive someone seven times would seem about as far as one could possibly go, still Jesus said that we should forgive seventy seven times… in other words, there is to be no limit to our willingness to forgive.
Of course Jesus was well aware of the human tendency was to put strict limits on forgiveness, as is clear in the parable he told to Peter and the others. In that story, even the fortunate person who had been generously forgiven a huge debt could not find it in his heart to forgive another to a much lesser extent. Foremost in Jesus' mind is how forgiving God was. In today's gospel he calls on Peter and on all of us to be God-like in our readiness to forgive. This is a major part of what he meant earlier in Matthew's gospel, "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." It is what Christian identity should mean for us.