Sermon for 16 Pentecost, Year A
Based on Matt. 18:21-35
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Forgiveness….One of the most important words in the Bible. One of the most powerful actions of God towards us human beings, and, in turn, of us towards one another. The New Testament Greek verb, translated forgiveness, means: to wipe something out, as with an eraser. That's precisely what God in the person of Christ has done and continues to do with our sin every day. That's precisely what Jesus wants each one of us to do with our brother's and sister's sin too.
But, as we all know, it's easier said than done! It's down right hard to forgive somebody for their sins against us~it takes a tremendous amount of effort and energy and good-will on our part to forgive. Maybe that's why Peter, in today's gospel (thinking that he was being very generous) asked Jesus: "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?"
Jesus, answers in usual fashion by telling a parable. Essentially, what Jesus is saying to Peter is: "Don't keep score; don't keep a record of how often people offend and how often you forgive. To do that, Peter, you will turn forgiveness into a rigid law. Rather, Peter, forgiveness is always a free gift of God's grace~therefore, it has no limits, it's so big, so great, that no one can keep track of it or measure it."
When we look at the parable, we come to see the largeness, the enormity of forgiveness by the comparisons of the two slaves. The first slave, we are told, owed the king a gigantic debt~10,000 talents, which amounted to 60,000,000 denarii! Now that was such a huge debt that it would have likely been impossible for that slave to pay it back~unless he was a gambling man and won the lottery!
Most likely, however, that slave would have gone into his grave still owing a lot of his debt to the king. Yet, the king, who symbolizes God in the parable, forgives the slave all of his debt, he erases it, cancels it, wipes it out! The slave is now a free man.
But what does he do? Go and throw a big party to celebrate his new found freedom and share his joy with others? Go and tell everyone how merciful, how generous, how forgiving the king was towards him? Oh no! not this guy. Instead, the first chance he gets, meets another slave who owes him some money. But, the money this second slave owes is a drop in the bucket by comparison! As a matter of fact, it's so small that you can't even compare the two debts. 100 denarii was only three month's wages for an ordinary labourer. How can one compare 100 denarii with 60,000,000?
Yet, the first slave, even though he was forgiven such a huge debt, was in no mood to be benevolent, to forgive his fellow slave's next-to-nothing debt. So he grabs the other slave violently by the neck and demands the debt be paid up. Ignoring the other slave's plea for patience, he throws his fellow slave in the slammer.
Sometimes, we too, are like that first slave, because we fail to learn from our troubles. We too have been treated by Christ and by other Christians with mercy, generosity and forgiveness in our troubled times. But we fail to learn forgiveness ourselves. What do we do? We, like the first slave, become easily offended with others; we hold, even nurse grudges; we judge others unfairly; we seek out our "pound of flesh," we look for revenge rather than forgiveness.
Unfortunately, it's often the case that immigrants who came to Canada a long time ago, and have been treated very well in this nation; are very prejudiced against the immigrants of today, and do not treat them very well. In fact, a number of them would prefer almost a closed-door immigration policy. How is it that they suffer from such severe myopia with regards to the mercy, forgiveness, tolerance which they received when they immigrated to this nation? One would hope that they might be even more forgiving, merciful and tolerant of new immigrants, because of their past experiences of forgiveness, mercy and tolerance~but, alas, this does not seem to be the case for many of them anyway.
Instead of remembering the mercy and forgiveness that God in the person of Christ and others have given us in times of trouble; do we, like that first slave, fail to have mercy and forgiveness towards others in their troubles?
Going back to Jesus's parable now, we learn the sober truth of the saying: "What goes around, comes around." Jesus says that other slaves blew the whistle on the first slave. When the king found out about it, that unforgiving slave was called onto the carpet before the king.
Then, the king lowers the boom, telling the slave he should have had mercy on his fellow slave because the king had so much mercy on him. The slave is then carted off to be tortured for the rest of his life, since he would never be able to pay, in full, his astronomical debt.
I don't know about you, but I know that I would never want to be that unforgiving slave and face the torture that he did for the rest of his life. The torture here, may not necessarily be interpreted as physical, rather, it's more likely social, psychological, emotional, and spiritual. For, who is able to be joyful and content with life when one has not forgiven someone? How can God be pleased with us if we fail to forgive others even though God forgives us for much more?!
How can we not forgive, believing that Christ has forgiven us so much that we could never be able to measure or keep a record of his forgiveness? The Jewish rabbis knew that if our relationship with God was not right, then our relationships with each other could not be right either. They said that if a person, after receiving God's forgiveness, does not, in turn, forgive other people; God would not answer that unforgiving person's prayers.
You see, failing to forgive someone; holding or nursing a grudge against someone; seeking revenge against someone has its tragic consequences~namely, a broken relationship with God because of the broken relationship with the other person whom we fail to forgive. Is that really how we want to live our lives~by counting, by keeping a record of, by placing limits on, by making a law out of other people's sins and the number of times we've forgiven them?
A biographer of the Soviet despot, Joseph Stalin, wrote: "Stalin never forgot nor forgave an injury done to him. He bided his time and in the end always hit back." Is that how we want to be remembered by others who look at our lives? Or, do we forgive from the heart? Do we forgive not 7 times, but 77 times, do we forgive without keeping a record, without counting, without limits? That's the question Jesus asks each one of us here today.
May all of us respond out of his endless grace and answer him with a resounding "YES!" For his unlimited, measureless forgiveness is worth celebrating and sharing with everyone in the world~not only in church on Sunday morning. It's truly GOOD NEWS FOR US ALL!
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