Sunday, September 17th, 2023

How Often Shall I forgive?

Grace, mercy and peace are yours from God our Father through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.  Let us pray.  O Lord, open our ears, that your Word may bear fruit in our lives, in Jesus’ name, Amen. The disciples asked Jesus a question and that question was “Who is The greatest in The Kingdom of heaven?” and Jesus answered with an object lesson, calling a little child into his midst, telling them whoever humbles himself like this child will be the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven, because children are dependent on their parents for everything, for food, clothing, for shelter, for love, for everything else. So Jesus’s message is simple and straightforward. Set aside your own claim to greatness, humble yourself, let the Lord provide everything you need. And true to form, Peter’s response misses the mark. “Jesus how often shall I forgive my brother? Seven times?” Now it’s important to note that Peter thought He was being generous. Peter thought He was going to go above and beyond. Perhaps Peter had in mind the common symbolism of the number seven in the Bible, thinking he was offering full and complete forgiveness. Perhaps Peter was referring to the commonly held view at the time that you needed to forgive your brother three times, offering to do twice as many plus one, but whatever the case, Peter did think he was going to receive a favorable response from Jesus, and instead Jesus first multiplies Peter’s number from 7 to 77 or more likely 70 times 7. But either way, the confusion about what number Jesus has in mind, is quickly cleared up the simple message of one of the most straightforward parables in all of the gospels. The message is simple. Forgiveness is not something to be counted. Forgiveness is not something to be measured. Be always willing, be always ready to forgive. It truly is a simple parable. The danger of preaching the parables is over preaching the parables and preaching the meaning right out of them. Instead, today we’ll just let the parable speak for itself. It’s divided into three simple parts. The master forgives the servant. The servant refuses to forgive his fellow servant.  And so the master revokes his earlier forgiveness, and the first servant is punished. It’s very simple. There are a few details that help clarify the message. The first is the size of the two debts that Jesus mentioned. The first debt the servant owed is actually a ridiculous amount. It’s absurd. It would be unbelievable that this would actually happen in real life. The first servant owes his master 10,000 talents. What is a talent? Good question. I’m glad you asked. The talent is 6000 denarii. What’s a denarius? Good question. Glad you asked. A denarius is a full day’s labor for an hourly worker. So, if you want to put that into our context, minimum wage in New Mexico according to Google on Saturday afternoon is $12.00 an hour. So, a denarius for an 8-hour work day in New Mexico, is $96 which means that one talent in New Mexico is approximately $576,000.  And this servant owed his master 10,000 talents.  $5.76 billion with a B that is. That is the debt that this is servant owed.  A debt to be repaid by someone who makes $12.00 an hour.  Now a person who works six days a week, over the span of 60 years, without ever taking any vacation time, which I believe is a very generous estimate, that person works fewer than 20,000 days in their entire life But that person would have to work 60 million days, and hand over every penny, without buying food without paying rent, without spending anything on anything else, 60 million days to pay off that debt. It’s such a large debt that it’s absurd. But that’s the point. The second debt: the second servant owes the first servant 100 denarii or 100 days wages, and, as we just said the denarius is about $96.00, so about $100. So, 100 denarii would be about $10,000. I think there’s actually two points Jesus is making here. First, $10,000 is not nothing, especially not to someone who makes $12.00 an hour, working an hourly wage. But the second point, the $10,000 is still nothing compared to 5.76 billion. $10,000 is a lot of money, but it’s a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the debt that that first servant was forgiven. I think that’s one of the points Jesus wants to make for us this morning. It’s as simple as that. The sins that other people commit against us, they’re not nothing.  They cause pain. They cause damage. Emotional damage, maybe physical damage, financial damage. When other people sin against me they can hurt my reputation. They fill us with guilt. They fill us with embarrassment or shame. They wreak havoc. They sweep through our lives like a tornado, leaving a string of damage behind them, or maybe it’s more like slowly chipping away at us making, us feel like a rusted out old truck frame sitting out in the sun. Either way, the sins other people commit against us are definitely not nothing, but their cost pales in comparison to the debt that we owe our master. Just think about it. To start with, every single sin that we commit against another person is also a sin against God. To use the metaphor of the parable, I may have sinned against you, to the tune of a $10,000 debt, but I’ve also sinned against another and another and another and another and another, and all those debts add up, piled upon each, other creating a number so big that it would be absurd for me to try to repay it. There’s also the sins that I commit that don’t even harm other people, those are still sins against God. I owe him for those too, and then there’s the internal sins that don’t cause any direct harm to anything. The lustful dream. The hateful thought. The prideful self-righteousness. All added on to the tab of the already absurdly large debt that I owe my master. Yes, someone may owe me for the sin they have committed against me. What they owe me pales in comparison to the debt that I owe God. But you didn’t need me to explain that to you because Jesus speaks clearly, and neither is it difficult to understand what happens next. The first servant cries out for mercy, mercy in the form of patience. Just give me time. Have patience with me and I will repay you everything. Now given the amount of debt that’s owed, it’s hard to see how this could be anything other than empty words. How could an hourly worker be expected to pay back a multibillion dollar debt? All the patience in the world is not going to allow for enough days to accumulate that kind of cash, but regardless, the master responds in mercy. Actually, the Greek there says the master responded in pity, splagchnizomai, again.  Forgiving the multibillion dollar debt, sending the servant away with a new lease on life, all because of the splagchnizomai of the master.  A new lease on life. Think about your own debt, if you have any. If someone came up to you and cancelled all your student loans, someone came up to you and cancelled all your medical debt, if you woke up tomorrow didn’t have a mortgage, woke up tomorrow didn’t have a car payment, how would your life be different? What kind of freedom would you feel? A forgiven debt is a new chance at life. It’s a chance to live a new kind of life, and that’s exactly what this servant got. So what did He do with it? Verse 28 says he goes out and he finds another servant who owes him money. This was not a chance meeting. They didn’t stumble across each other in the marketplace. He went out and sought out his brother, and upon finding him, he demanded payment for the debt. No, getting $10,000 is not nothing, especially for an hourly worker, but it is nothing compared to 5.76 billion. The second servant pleads for pity with almost the exact same words as the first. Have patience with me. I will repay you. While the master responded with splagchnizomai the servant does not. He has his other servant put in prison until the debt can be paid. Now how, you might ask, is he supposed to earn money to repay the debt if he’s in prison. I don’t know, but I think that’s kind of the point. He wasn’t ever going to get his money back. Maybe he didn’t even want his money back. Maybe he just wanted to see his fellow servant punished, and there, I think, is the main question Jesus is putting before Peter, putting before his disciples, putting before us. In this parable, how do you see yourself? When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Do you see someone who has been forgiven an absurd debt or do you see someone who is owed something by the world around you, by the people around you? The truth is, at least according to the parable, that you’re both, but which one shapes your day-to-day interactions, which one is shapes the way you approach life? Remember this parable is part of a larger conversation of Matthew chapter 18. Unless you humble yourselves and become like a child you will not see the kingdom of heaven Jesus says. Jesus responds to a question about greatness by pointing us to humility, and when Peter follows up that point well, the question that would still allow him some sort of greatness to cling to of his own, the greatness of his forgiveness, of his own generosity, Jesus answers with a parable demonstrating that the people of God are people who have been given or forgiven a debt of such absurd magnitude we could never have hope to repay it ourselves. There is no greatness of our own to stand on, so when I look in the mirror, what do I see? A child of God who relies on Him to survive or one who still has some sliver of personal greatness to stand on my own? What is my attitude towards life, and what is yours. One who rejoices in the forgiveness and the pity and the splagchnizomai of the master or one who treats that mercy as if it was mine by right, turning around and demanding justice and payment and punishment on those who have sinned against me. There’s an old  notion that you’ll see what you look for in life. So Jesus calls us to see ourselves for what we truly are, people who have been forgiven a ridiculously large debt, people who have been forgiven a debt we could never have hoped to repay for ourselves, people who are now free to live in the joy and the freedom that comes from having that debt relieved. Through the forgiveness we have received, the Holy Spirit is at work in us, empowering us to forgive others. As the parable makes clear, the hurt and the real consequences in my life that are the result of someone’s sin against me, those aren’t nothing. I don’t have to pretend like it doesn’t hurt. The emotions that I feel when I’m the victim of someone else’s sin are real emotions and they’re complicated. The hurt may never go away. The emotions won’t go away just because I tell them to. That’s the thing about forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that I rid myself of all my hurt feelings. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that I make myself happy about a bad situation. Forgiveness means that I set aside the right for the pursuit of vengeance. It means that I released that person from whatever retribution or retaliation that I might want to take, which maybe even they deserve. I turn my back on that and I look to Jesus. The emotions involved will certainly be complicated. The hurt may never go away. The memory of what happened may forever change the way that I relate to that person, how much access to my life I give them, how close I allow them to be. But forgiveness is releasing the pursuit of vengeance. The message of Jesus’s parable doesn’t change. You have been forgiven more than you can imagine. God does not pursue you in vengeance, God pursues you to forgive you. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him. That’s who Jesus is for you, and Jesus invites us to live in that forgiveness. It’s not a punishment. It’s freedom. Freedom to embrace each day as a gift given to me by the hand of a God who’s forgiven a ridiculously large debt that I owed. That’s what this parable is truly about. The parable about the forgiveness of the master, included in a larger section of Matthew, emphasizing how our Lord provides for all our needs of body and soul as his children. So today let’s keep the message simple. We rejoice in the forgiveness that we have received; we pray that the Holy Spirit would work through God’s Word and God’s gifts to renew our hearts so that we can be just as quick to forgive others too, and share the joy and the freedom that comes from being a child of God. May God grant that to us here for Jesus’s sake, Amen.