Text: Matthew 18:21-35
Function: to help us see what forgiveness is all about
21Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if my brother or sister sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
23“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him, 25and, as he could not pay, the lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions and payment to be made. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28But 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.’ 29Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
The Lectionary provides a schedule of bible passages for the preacher to follow so that he/she does not get in a rut and preach the same old passage every week. Today’s lesson is from the lectionary and it is on forgiveness.
I suppose the salient phrase from this morning’s passage is “you should have mercy as I have had mercy on you.”
Peter starts out, I believe, thinking he is being bold in stating that we should forgive up to seven times. And Jesus’ answer to that is hyperbole, “77 times”
I believe it is a metaphor for “don’t even count.”
The scriptures say, Love believes all things, bears all things and endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:7
I believe it means that when a person is walking in God’s love for others, there is a contentment in the peace that the promise of eternal life brings that we can continue to forgive because God forgave us.
I notice something about Jesus’ teaching. It is never about “believing the right thing.” No. It is always about “doing the right thing.”
And when Jesus gives the parable about the Kingdom of heaven being all about forgiveness, he again uses hyperbole. 10,000 talents would be billions of dollars. At the time, it would have amounted to a king’s ransom. An amount almost impossible to pay. And the master forgives the debt. He has mercy on the one who cries out for it. He, listens to the cry of the desperate and is a righteous, or just king, because he extends mercy.
Meanwhile, the parable focuses on what the parable calls “wickedness:” the man’s refusal to give the same mercy he was given and is condemned by the master for his refusal.
Jesus gives a warning about them forgiving completely, or “from the heart.”
Forgiveness isn’t easy, because we have been wronged and our sense of person-hood has been violated.
Do the people we forgive deserve it? Probably not.
What if they have not repented, or changed the behavior that offends, or offended us? How do we forgive when the presence of some people reminds us of the pain that they have caused in our lives?
These are all difficult but legitimate questions. All of them are subject first to a matter of faith. The point of the parable is that the master has given us mercy and we have to respond by giving mercy toward others.
The mercy given is actually the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life. The Psalms say that it is impossible to purchase.
We received mercy, we give mercy.
In other words, forgive and accept people. That doesn’t mean we don’t set up boundaries to protect ourselves from the bad behavior of others. But Jesus teaches us to forgive from the heart.
The highlight of our Kairos weekend, which is coming up in November and I’m gonna need some cookies, the highlight, is the forgiveness ceremony.
And every time I do the weekend, God reveals to me more people and circumstances where I get to forgive and God then experience God’s healing, salvation.
Forgiveness heals us.
It is a way for us to let go of past pain.
Forgiveness from the heart does not mean we justify bad behavior, but it means that we release it to God who is a loving, fair and merciful judge. I rest in that thought.
So, he says forgive. It sets us free.
I have been wanting to share this next story with you for years and today the Holy Spirit is finally letting me.
It comes after our conversation last Sunday about the query in our denomination allowing each church to decide for themselves on the issue of how to care for people who have different gender identities, and a phone conversation with Jodie this week.
I’ll set the stage:
I once pastored a larger, multi-staffed church. And we had a lot of people who came for I suspect various reasons.
One guy was a “Christmas, Easter” attender. And he was welcome. In some ways, I got to know him because his wife was a devout attender and she ensured that we had contact together.
I try not to judge, but the fellow was sort of vulgar. Really, not judgment. He was a Vietnam Vet and those guys have a lot to process. But it was difficult to see the fruit of “love, Joy, Peace” and etc in his life. I wondered if he had ever made the choice to trust Jesus and join the family of God.
And then, sadly, Vietnam got him and we walked together through the very long process of his dying from bladder cancer caused by agent orange poisoning. He name is now enshrined before the wall in D.C.
This is the story of the slow salvation of this man through the process of forgiveness.
When he was first diagnosed, he finally opened the door to have the discussion with me about life, death and the afterlife and what faith in Jesus actually means.
And praise God, I got to lead him past his baptism into the power of the Spirit as he learned to forgive from the heart. And he had a hard time learning that lesson because of his relationship with his son.
He loved his son and had great memories of childhood times with sports, fishing and father son bonding. He was a good father, not perfect, but motivated by love and that is all we really can ask of parent.
The problem, he told me, was that he couldn’t stand to be around his son.
Of course, I was shocked because he predicated that statement about not wanting to see him with the fact that he loved him and missed him terribly.
I didn’t understand at first just what was going on inside of him until he told me that he could not forgive him for the choices he was making in his life.
My parishioner believed what I no longer believe, but confess I did at the time. He believed that his son had chosen to rebel against God and shack up with a male partner.
This put me in a quandary. I wasn’t there to minister to, or try to save the son. I never met him, and God had placed before me a man who was wrecked by unforgiveness and it was clear to him that it was a barrier between him and God.
So, instead of my worrying about whether or not the son was in rebellion with God, I needed to focus on what the father needed for his own restoration and reconciliation with God.
And that turned out to be reconciliation with his son.
And just like Christ did from the cross toward the very ones who murdered him, he forgave them even though they did not change their behavior.
Regardless of who or what this man’s son was, he needed to forgive him. So he did.
And the son came to visit his dying father and they reconciled. Thank God, that the reconciliation happened long before the man died and they were able to make up for a few years of lost time.
And I got to know the son and his partner through the process. He has a beautiful soul.
And watching God love the son through the love of the father became a metaphor for me to accept people I previously denied. I witnessed God accept the son.
It really changed my parishioner. Remember how I mentioned that he did not seem to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit? Well, no longer. He was truly born again by the Spirit of God to love unconditionally. His heart melted and became soft and kinder.
Now remember, the salient phrase of the text is that we should give the same mercy we have been given. Regardless of whether or not we think someone deserves it
I watched that man get saved through the forgiveness of his gay son. At the time, that really messed with my theology.
The thing is, God led me to forgive the son as well.
I saw the Spirit of God move when this man accepted and forgave his son. He didn’t place the condition of change on his son.
I got to be a part of God healing a family, and I thank God for that. The man learned to forgive. But at the same time, I’m not sure who learned the lesson that day, was it him or was it me?
So, I see the Spirit of God moving in the same direction. It began the journey in me that let me to accept people with different gender identities.
It is biblical to forgive people their transgressions. Jesus breathed on us the Holy Spirit and told us to forgive the sins of others. That is what I did with the son.
It was a different theological understanding than what I was raised with. But. It is biblical to forgive the sins of others.
And by now, you know me. I preach the scriptures and Jesus as the Word of God. I try not to compromise for convenience. And I know that within the church, it is easier and more popular to say things like “gays are wrong” and point the finger and blame them for our problems. But that is contrary to scripture.
And I am trying to stay true to what the Scriptures actually mean when God says to love and forgive others.