Sermon for the 15th Sunday after the feast of Pentecost - Matthew 18:21-35
Forgiveness in Jesus is bigger than our bitterness, our anger, our strife, our memory. Forgiveness in Jesus is something sent for freedom, not failure. For transformation, not compulsion. And this is good news for the two siblings fighting in the backseat over who looked at who. Who touched who. Mom, she’s looking at me! Am not! Dad, he’s not staying on his side! Often, attempts to find the trivial, or rather insignificant, to be bigger than they are. Looking at someone the wrong way, saying the wrong things, insults, offence, all around stupidity. Not to say those things are unimportant in this world, but they are small matters in comparison to what Christ sees as the essential foundation of forgiveness.
If you remember last week, we looked at tax collectors and gentiles and how forgiveness, rather than exclusion is the goal of the church. The church being the pharmacy of all things redemption. Dispensing out the Gospel like the one free, high-potency street drug in hopes of getting you hooked on Jesus who gives you what you can’t find elsewhere. Mercy without the pound of flesh. Amnesty without restitution. Justice thrown out the window for the sake of you.
Here we have Peter, after Jesus speaks of the least in the Kingdom being the most important, the weak being the wanted, the strays being the ones sought by God, Peter wants some clarification on this whole forgiveness business. He wants to know the scope of his job description.
Jesus, if John over here sins against, how many times do I do this whole forgiveness thing until I can say, “enough is enough?” 7 times? That’s a lot of second chances Jesus. 7 times sounds good. 7 is a number God likes. Symbolizes completeness. Finality. I think 7 sounds good Jesus.
But you know Jesus, right? He’s not going to stop short. He’s not one to usually look you in the face, pat you on the head and say – good boy. No. Peter, let’s try completion times completion. Infinite completion. So complete its forgiveness that is HUGE! Here it reads 77 times, because that is easier, but the Greek can say 70 x 7. But don’t keep track. Let me tell you why.
The we get the parable. A king. A slave. A monstrous debt. It says here “10,000 bags of gold.” Other translations use the word talent which is a little weird for us. Talent means something else to us. In dollar amount, try $3500 per talent. Per bag of gold. Times 10,000 is…carry the 5…$35,000,000! That’s a lot of money. Even if this man were a highly appointed servant in the kingdom, that is a lot of money to go into debt. And that is Christ’s point. The word we translate to mean 10,000 is the word we use for myriad. A myriad of talents. In the ancient world a precise number would be 10,000, but myriad can also mean countless. Uncountable. Immeasurable. Don’t even try to count your debt. You’ll die before you do. So, it was a lot, and the king forgives it. Writes it off. Erases it. Nothing left. See ya later. Have a good day.
Most of us would be overjoyed. Ecstatic. Not the slave in our story. He gets forgiven, and goes out and finds the one guy who owes so he can start making some money. He finds the guy. Owes him the equivalent of anywhere between $100 and $6400. A denarius was a day’s wage for a common laborer. 100 days of wages at minimum wage in America would be roughly $6400. But Palestine wasn’t America. The average unskilled laborer around the world makes a $1 a day. So you do the math. $6400 is a lot of money. $100 is not. I tend to think of it on the lower end. But regardless. $35 million versus $6400? One is astronomical, the other still a lot. Still hurts. But that is not the point I wager.
I have preached on this text before and looked at that amount that the slave wants back and have talked about how the sins of others against us are still a big deal. They still cause us pain. They still make us angry, and we don’t want us to forgive. We want to hold onto that debt. Keep it close to the chest. Never forgetting because the pain is so real and raw.
But as I meditated on this text this week, as a visited with someone who had that pain they could not let go. That bitterness eating away at them, I realized the truth here. Christ is speaking of multiple things. Important things.
First, bitterness takes work. Holding that grudge, being mad, hurt. It takes so much work because we relive a past experience over and over again. Although it is a sin that someone has committed against us, we become slaves to it. Bound to it. Dragging it around. Our moments of life become years of hatred and anger that consume us. While freedom of the Gospel, redemption from sin, death and the devil is not only release from our debts, but those of others. Christ has bought forgiveness by his blood. Who am I to look at my brother or sister and say – You are not worth it.
Second, the debt in which my brother is indebted to me might be huge. But who am I a brother to? Which brother or sister have I wronged that Bob may owe me for some sin, but I owe Del. So on and so forth. When does it stop? At what point do we just look around and see that we’re all screwed without Jesus?
Finally, what is your debt to God? I know that Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe, sin had left a crimson stain, he washed it white as snow. But think of your day. You woke up this morning. The sun came up. The birds sang. The earth is still spinning. You drew a breath a second ago. Your heart is beating. You have food. There has been and will be coffee. You got here without any accidents along the way. You have a bed to go home to. Running water. Some sort of family, children, pets, whatever. Daily, even moment-by-moment blessings that God gives that we usually take for granted. Our debt to God. The Creator. The Almighty. The one who forgives our indifference. Our petulance. Our arrogance and boredom, to give to us his rain in due season. His sun in his time.
When the youth gather for confirmation, we always begin with highs and lows. What was a high for the week? A good thing. What is a low? Something you may need prayer for. The hope is this spiritual practice in which our young people begin to recognize the work of God in their lives. God’s provision of daily bread as we pray in the Our Father.
But remember what else we pray – Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Another translation? Forgive us our…debts, as we forgive our debtors. A prayer we pray not say – get on forgiving, but asking God to forgive us, and our debtors. Help us, O Lord, to be a forgiving people. Release us of the bondage of hate and bitterness to see your gift of Christ as the myriad sacrifice. The debt we cannot repay. Help us to bring the fruit of that work to the people you seek as your own. Those who have sinned against us.
I often find myself begging God’s forgiveness not for breaking the 10 commandments, which Lord knows I do every minute of every day (i.e – a $35,000,000 debt), but to forgive me for being unforgiving. For finding the speck in my sister’s eye and not worrying about the log in my own. For allowing my life to be consumed by counting the “debts” people owe to me and not seeing myself as a debtor who deserves nothing but prison and loss, but Jesus looks at me, looks at you when you, like me, refuse to forgive and says – I forgive you. Thanks be to God. Amen