Forgiveness and politics: Reading Matthew 18:21–35 with survivors of armed conflict in Colombia

Robert W. Heimburger* (Corresponding Author), Christopher M. Hays, Guillermo Mejía-Castillo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
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After decades of armed conflict in Colombia, how do those most affected by that conflict understand forgiveness? While others have researched Colombians’ views of forgiveness, this study is the first to do so through discussion of a narrative of forgiveness. Readings of the biblical narrative chosen for this study, the Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor (Mt 18:21–35), can enable North Atlantic scholars to discover dimensions of the parable revealed by those who live lives that mirror the realities of the parable, unlike such scholars. The study aims to understand how conflict survivors, especially internally displaced persons (IDPs), understand forgiveness and its relation to politics. The study also aims to identify how these women and men read Matthew 18:21–35 differently from academics. Groups in eight locations around Colombia discussed Matthew 18:21–35. Researchers led lectura popular de la Biblia [people’s readings of the Bible], inviting participants to say how the parable related to their lives and to discuss the political consequences that would come from imitating characters in the parable. Conflict survivors said that forgiving was essential if their communities were going to be communities at all, especially communities at peace, offering freedom and economic opportunity. Unlike commentators, they read Matthew 18:21–35 as enjoining forgiveness towards those beyond their local church and for wrongs involving money and violence. As Colombian churches seek to counter resentment with forgiveness, they should be aware of the power of lectura popular, especially of this parable, to create a safe environment where conflict survivors can speak candidly.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbera5245
Number of pages9
JournalHTS Teologiese Studies/ Theological Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 19 Feb 2019

Bibliographical note

This project was made possible through the support of a grant from the Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF).

The authors thank Fernando Abilio Mosquera-Brand, Milton Alfonso Acosta-Benítez, Francis Alexis Pineda, and Laura Cadavid-Valencia, who along with G.M.C. and R.W.H. carried out the fieldwork. The authors also thank those who commented
on early versions of this article at presentations in Berlin, Oxford, Boston, Medellín, and Bogotá, especially David López-Amaya.


  • hermeneutics
  • Matthew
  • post-conflict
  • Colombia
  • forgiveness
  • politics
  • lectura popular de la Biblia
  • people's readings of the Bible
  • popular readings of the Bible
  • violence
  • money
  • conflict survivors


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