“Forgiveness has Responsibilities!”
Matthew 18: 21-35, September 13th, 2020
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these words attributed to the teachings of Jesus in the gospel according to Matthew, chapter eighteen, verses twenty-one thru thirty-five.”
21 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?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy – (Dash) seven times. 23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 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.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will
pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 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. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
“Having listened to this allegory of the master and his slave and the consequences of being forgiven yet not forgiving, let us consider how we can learn from this lesson.”
“Forgiveness has Responsibilities”
What does it mean to be forgiven and what responsibilities do we incur once we are forgiven? This is what our scripture lesson is about, and it is crucial for us all to grasp its intent and meaning! The Apostle Peter leads our discussion when he is recorded as asking Jesus “how often should I forgive?” /Matthew 18:21b/ The number of times as recorded in the old King James translation of the response to this question has Jesus telling us we are to forgive “seventy times seven!” /Matthew 18:22b, KJV/ That is 490 times! Whereas some translations leave the number at seventy (dash) seven times! Clearly the scholars were working hard as they worked on these translations to give us the right number! Yet, debating the number of times diminishes, belittles even this point which Jesus made. Four hundred and ninety times, or seventy – (Dash) seven times, is meant to suggest we need forgive someone an infinite number of times! The question from Peter suggests even he was struggling to repeatedly forgive someone, and he even said that ‘someone’ was part of the church! Let us dare admit, we often have trouble forgiving someone the first time! Say nothing of the second, third or fourth time!
Jesus, of course, was using the dialog with Peter as an opportunity to speak of the kingdom of heaven. He was inferring quite clearly that this was an important lesson for us to comprehend, as most of us folks that even consider the words of Jesus; we want to get into heaven when the time comes! Therefore, it is imperative for us to get this one right! There is so much supporting information in the gospels accounts to help us clarify what Jesus’ intent in this lesson is. The simple parable that he uses speaks in the language of the people, using a real-life situation that everyone could easily understand. A king wanted to settle accounts with his slave. The slave asked for compassion as there was no way he could pay the money that was demanded of him. The king planned to sell him and his family to get the money he sought. It was at this point that the servant begged his master to not put him and his family in jail and asking for mercy, pleaded that he would repay his master. Astonishingly the Master chooses to have pity on the man; thereby forgiving his debt and setting him free! “And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.” /Matthew 18:27/ This ought to have been the end of a great analogy, yet Jesus could not let it go – not with this ending. For Jesus knew all too well the nature of humankind and thus was forced to continue with the story. Have you ever wondered if God fully knows your true nature?
Had Jesus been able to end the story with the slave being forgiven his debt and freed, all would have cheered and clapped for joy! For many of us humans need forgiveness at some level or another. Do you need forgiveness for anything? Granted some have more serious crimes than another. If all who owed more money than they can currently pay, our prisons would be needing to be doubled or even tripled, several times, to hold all those who could not repay their debt on a timely manner! The harsh reality is that we humans cannot seem to look to a gift, which someone offers us, and accept it without doubt, skepticism, without that ‘need’ to pass on the endured misery and pain to yet another! This despite our own good fortune! Surely, this does not apply to any of us! No, Jesus is forced to take the parable to the next chapter of this human drama. Though a parable, the analogy fits our human nature all too well! Does this include you and me, you ask? The ungrateful slave, having been forgiven his debt and granted freedom immediately, he went forth and hunted up his fellow slaves who owed him some money. When the slaves peer, his equal would not, because he could not, pay him the money he owed, the freed slave offered no forgiveness or mercy, and had his fellow thrown in jail till he could pay his debt! When word got back to his master about his actions, he was thrown in prison with no mercy whatsoever! Jesus concludes his teaching with these words in verse 35. “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Wow! Now that we are clear as to what this reading is saying to us what do we do with it? We do not have debtor’s prisons here, not here in the United States. Please, tell me I am correct about this assumption; we do not go to prison for failing to pay our debts right! Neither are we forcing people into servitude like a slave either, surely not in the Twenty-First Century and surely not here in the land of the free! Right? Historically, we did; but not now! Thankfully, and technically, this no longer occurs here in our communities. Yet, there are some concerning signs that we, as a people, are not perhaps paying attention to. For example, we can have someone removed from their home, if they lose their job and cannot pay their rent. Yes, we do live in a society that has many and various problems. We need not get into them at this time of course. Surely everyone knows what the current situation is. Consequently, let us focus on this aspect of forgiveness which Jesus is putting here for us to examine. You and me, all of us, we were invited to celebrate the sacrament of holy communion last week. Those of you attending this service virtually, on the internet in some way, when I was serving communion, I tried to advise you that you can do this at home! God’s holy blessing of the sacrament is more than capable of blessing the food and drink on your table at home. If you are eating crackers, break one in half and be reminded how Jesus blessed it and asked you to remember his body, broken for you – for the forgiveness of sins! There it is! Forgiveness. Through Christ we are forgiven. Thank God, Thank you Jesus!
As average human women and men, in our teens or as adults, we know we need forgiveness from time to time. If you are unsure of this ask someone you live with if they can confirm this. Do you ever wonder if, you know who, ever forgave you? If the response is more than you anticipated, remember today’s parable. First, forgive the messenger. And secondly, remember, we all fall short of the goal. We are encouraged to seek perfection, like that of Jesus. Start by asking God, through Christ for forgiveness. Then be reminded to forgive others who are indebted to you or who have trespassed into your live. Jesus is saying we need to come to terms with their sins in a way which will allow us to forget each other’s – sins! Consider the implications in this. If they forgive me – do I still need to forgive them? If we sin against another, we will need to ask God for forgiveness. But wait it does not end there. No, we need to sin no more, and we need to go make things right with that other person. If we stole from them, then we need to repay it. This is on us. Prayerfully, the other person believes it is right to forgive us and they will likewise forgive us. But that is between that other person and God. It is not ours to correct.
Let us consider for a moment, if we, if we all were to forgive one other. In principle this would be transforming and revolutionary if we all learned this art and practiced it from the depths of our hearts. This is easy to write about but not at all easy to live into. Furthermore, it is not this simple. No, living up to this – one will not be easy! You see, we are all human and when someone hurts us, that is a sin, it hurts! How deep the hurt and pain depends on the ill deed! Steal my car, I can buy a new one. Pluck out my eye, well that cannot be fixed. Forgiveness comes with responsibilities. Somethings cannot be repaired. If you caused the damage, our society says you need to pay restitution. In our scripture, the debt was either forgiven or it needed to be repaid, as the social laws required! Take a moment and reflect on how difficult this can be. It does not work unless you bring God into the mix. True forgiveness comes from the heart and only frees you if you sincerely offer the forgiveness from the depths of your heart! If you do that, then you will be freed of the pain that comes from the anger, the hurt, and the urge to get retribution, or revenge against the offender.
This is a hard, hard lesson to accept if you grasp its full meaning. Yet, to truly be freed from the bondage which we humans tend to put ourselves in, thru are ‘all-too’ human nature, which ultimately works against our ability to fully forgive another. It does take a strong willingness to live like Jesus did. Forgiveness is something which comes when we are truly ready to fully turn it over to God – to handle. So, the ultimate question is: if we truly and sincerely forgive, without knowing if the other can make restitution, we may still know some peace from the pain of a given situation?
Every question we ask cannot be answered, that is the hard part. In the parable, Jesus puts forth a master and a slave. We know that relationship will not work for us. Yet, it was an easy to understand parable. We do know what forgiveness is. We sometimes want it or need it. The hard part is to be grateful and become willing to forgive others as situations come up. That is not to say there will not be consequences that need to be worked out if the relationship is to be healed. We know that real life examples, as implied in our lesson today, are harder to deal with then it sounds. However, it is important to know where the goal is as we stretch ourselves and seek it out! If we fail, at least Jesus will give us seventy-six more chances at least! The harsh truth is our neighbor probably will not. This is where we must trust God’s grace, as we seek out real life solutions, while dealing with the reality of our individual human nature.