22nd Sunday after Trinity – November 16th, 2014– Matthew 18:21-35
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Once again, let’s consider the purpose, the reason for the existence of the Church. There are many for whom the Church is about social connections. I’ll go to this church, it has the most people, the wealthiest people there. If I go there I’ll be in with a good crowd; it’s the Church to be at. For some, Church is mainly a family place, something for their kids with lots of entertaining programs. For some, it’s even their main social hub – this is where my friends go, and we get there and we chat. For some, Church is about learning to live a disciplined life and better morality, for some Church is about trying to get blessings from God – a favorite of the TV preachers. But all of these dance around what Church, what the Christian faith is really to be about. Church is about, first and foremost – salvation. The reason Christ comes down from heaven is for our salvation – Jesus comes so that by being forgiven we may be reunited with Him for all eternity. The central thrust, the central focus is that we have been Justified, made righteous, forgiven by Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection; that we receive this forgiveness, that we cling to it by faith.
This is what our Lord teaches us today with His parable. Peter had asked a question to our Lord – “How often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Peter was wondering just how much he really had to put up with – how much he should forgive. He suggests the number 7. . . and as we know where the story is going we can scoff at Peter. We shouldn’t. 7 is a generous number – it’s more generous than we think of today. Seriously. For us, it’s Once bitten, twice shy. How quickly can we write someone off because they did 1 thing that annoyed us? If we are honest with ourselves, Peter’s suggestion of forgiving the brother seven times is often much more generous than we are willing to give. But our Lord brushes Peter’s suggestion aside – Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” Nope, Peter, not even close – try 490 times – try forgiving your brother so often that you cannot even remember how often you have forgiven your brother.
This is what the Christian faith looks like. We as Christians are to be not simply those who receive forgiveness, but we are to be those who forgive. And we are not to make excuses why we don’t forgive, we aren’t to stop and pause and think, “Well, I don’t know if they were really sorry, so I’m still going to hold a grudge.” Nope. Put all thoughts like that far away from you – vengeance, punishment, comeuppance, just deserts – all that belongs to the Lord. As for you – when your brother wrongs you, forgive and show love. Our every effort should be so that eventually our brother is restored to us in love and fellowship – and we should never, never feel justified in bearing anger or ill will towards another – and any thought that would excuse or justify those ill thoughts is of the devil.
This is a hard teaching. It’s one none of us like, and why? We, in our own sin, delight in finding excuses on how and why we don’t need to forgive, making excuses to give us loopholes to grouse, to be hateful towards our neighbor and yet feel good about our hatred. We know this song and dance, and we know over the long wrong it really harms us. So why? Why can it be so appealing to hold on to wrath, why does it appeal to us so – and how can we learn to avoid it? Our Lord tells us a parable to explain why.
Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. Now, first, let’s go over what a talent was – a talent was roughly 20 years wages for a simple worker. Consider that – let’s say that one makes 25,000 a year, at 20 years, that is half a million dollars. So, conservatively, this man owes at least 5 billion dollars. We are talking crazy, stupid money here. And the man cannot pay. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the master of the servant released him and forgave him the debt. Now note, this is very important. The servant never says he is sorry. The servant never says he is wrong. The servant is still arrogant and brash – I’ll pay you back. That’s a stupid boast – it can’t be paid back. And yet, even for a servant as annoying as this – the master releases him, and he forgives the debt. No, you don’t need even to pay me back – I will write it off. What love! What generosity! What little that servant understood.
But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, began to choke him saying, “Pay what you owe.” Now, hundred denarii is a hundred days wages – let’s call it $10,000. A serious chunk of change – not 5 billion, but something of note. But the servant just goes crazy – chokes the other servant, demands satisfaction. So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. No, for this debt, there is no mercy given. And this is shocking, it is horrifying to the other servants. And they go and tell the master, and the master summons this servant and says, “You wicked servant! I forgave all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy upon you?” And in anger, his master delivered him to the jailers until he should pay all his debt. So also My heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. Well, sometimes our Lord can be blunt, and His bluntness cuts through our excuses. We are to forgive. Period. But consider this question with me for a moment – why is the master so angry with the wicked servant? It has nothing to do with that servant’s debt – the master was willing to forgive that. Rather, what angered the master, what made the servant wicked, was that the servant did not recognize what mercy, what forgiveness really was.
Consider this – you have received God’s love. Christ Jesus has died for your sin – you have every blessing imaginable – you have life and salvation and heaven – all yours on account of Christ Jesus. He has covered your debt – every sin, every vile word or deed you have done, every unclean thought – He has forgiven. Your debt to God is huge – it is nothing you could ever make up. Yet the Father in His love and mercy says, “On account of the death of My Son Christ Jesus upon the Cross – I forgive you.” To make this truth completely clear, God even sends pastors out to proclaim this forgiveness over and over. This is what God has done for you. This is reality, that great and wonderful truth. There is forgiveness!
The wicked servant, though, seems to just blow by the mercy that he has received. He does not learn to show mercy – and instead he shows anger. He does not know what mercy, what forgiveness is. So – do you recognize, do you understand what forgiveness is? Do you understand what Christ Jesus has done for you? Do you see the veritable mountain of sin that He has forgiven you, is your focus and wonder there – or with wickedness, do you your turn your eye to the annoyance that your brother has done to you, and do you look at your brother with hatred and anger? This is where the rubber meets the road in the life of one who would be a Christian. Is your focus going to be upon Christ and Him Crucified, is your focus going to be upon the God who comes down from heaven to win you forgiveness so that He might have you with Himself for all eternity – or is your focus going to be upon the people who have wronged you, and upon your anger, upon your hurt, upon the petty self-satisfaction you get from thinking you are better than them? Which is bigger, which is more important, because your focus cannot be both upon Christ and upon your anger – and here is the kicker – when you choose to focus upon your anger, to harbor it – you are choosing to turn away from Christ. You are choosing anger and wrath over forgiveness – and God will say, “fine, have anger and wrath for all eternity, since that is what you crave.”
Kind of chilling, is it? So what now? Do I count up how many times I have proclaimed forgiveness here? (Oops, I’ve been here 10 years, that’s more than 490 times I’ve forgiven you, you’re off the wagon/ well, I’ve done around 170 services here, you only get 320 more times and then you’re out of luck?) No – rather, out of His love, God calls you to repentance over and over again. Repentance means to turn away from your sin, your sinful desires, and rather to turn to Christ, to behold Him, to keep your eyes there. Your Lord knows you are tempted in this way – your Lord knows that Satan loves to stoke the fires of your anger – and so our Lord, in His great love you, in His ardent and fervent desire to have you with Him for all eternity, calls out to you once again, and says that while your sin may be great, His love for you is greater, more wondrous, more astonishing. God repents you, turns you back to Himself, pulls your eyes off of your own thoughts and feelings and sins and instead gives you Christ for you again. You are forgiven, this is the great truth. Take and eat, take and drink – this is My Body, this is My Blood, and you are forgiven, and you are strengthened in love towards your neighbor, even the neighbor who sins against you.
This is the wonder. Our sin is so real. The weight of it, the vileness of it, it’s real. It’s heavy – it’s a $5 billion dollar burden none of us could pay. And yet, our Lord forgives – and this forgiveness is the heart, the center of our lives. He wants nothing to take our eyes off of this, nothing to shake us loose from this – to let His mercy be the highest truth in our lives. And so, over and over, He tells us of His love, gives us His forgiveness again, calls us to receive His Body and Blood – all so that we might not fall again into great shame and vice, all so that when we do fall, we might repent and be restored. Christ in His mercy has forgiven you. Keep your focus there. Do not let sin, including the sin others have done to you, wrest your eyes off of Christ. Rather – remember that this place is a House of mercy for all sinners who desire forgiveness. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +