October 5, 2014 / Pentecost 17
Matthew 18:21-35 Why should I forgive you?
A while back, my friend hurt me pretty badly. We went out for dinner because I just needed to vent about the problems I was having. Things weren’t going well in my life at that time. The people I would see on a regular basis stressed me out beyond belief. It was difficult to make ends meet at that time. I was beginning to seek some bit of comfort in things I knew weren’t healthy for me physically, emotionally, or even spiritually. I just wanted to talk to my friend about some of these issues. I even told him, I don’t anybody else to know what I’m going through. It’s difficult enough as it is. I didn’t want people talking about me. He said he’d keep me in his prayers and we parted ways. It wasn’t more than a couple days later, I overheard another friend of mine talking with different friend about some of the issues I was having, the very same issues I specifically remember saying I didn’t want anybody to know. And by this time, the story had become embellished, as if I was the worst person in the world. My heart shrank. I felt about the size of an ant. I can’t believe that my friend said anything. What, did he get on a loud speaker as soon as we parted ways and announced to the world my problems? I felt like I couldn’t show my face in public anymore. How was I supposed to forgive a guy who claims he’s my Christian friend? That’s ridiculous! He’s nothing but a lying…how could I forgive someone like that?
Now, I personally was never hurt or wronged by a friend in such a public manner. But that’s not out of the ordinary. I’ve been hurt in other ways. I’ve been wronged by people claiming to be my friends. It hurts! Even if they realized what they did, they feel awful, they ask for forgiveness, does it really help our cause? Aren’t we still humiliated? Aren’t we still the suckers? Sure, I’ll forgive you, but I’m keeping my eye on you. The idea of “burying the hatchet” seems out the window.
Do you know the history of the phrase burying the hatchet? It was a simple custom of literally burying a hatchet. When two warring Native American tribes would finally reach a peace settlement, they would bury a hatchet, symbolizing that they would no longer use that weapon to fight. Both sides were reconciled, and made friends again. But when it comes to “burying the hatchet” we often leave the handle sticking out. We want to be able to access it easily so that we can dig up old problems. We want to be able to lord the difficulty over that person, as if demonstrating to them that they can’t quite compare to the hurt they put us through, or as if they owe us something.
The apostle Peter maybe had gone through the hurt of someone wronging him too. He approaches Jesus, in a very loving manner, and simply asks, “Should I forgive this person who continually sins against me, who continually wrongs me? Seven times probably will suffice right? After that, I can say, I don’t think you’re really sorry, so no.” Now we can’t totally discredit Peter here. Peter probably was legitimately concerned that people would take advantage of God’s forgiveness. A sinner brought to repentance and assured of his forgiveness could turn right around and sin again and again and again. At what point do we say, “Enough is enough!” In every marriage, in every family, in every friendship, Christians will be faced with the situation in which forgiveness is requested of them again and again and again. Children make mistakes. Are parents always so willing to forgive when that child apologizes? Spouses make mistakes. Are spouses so willing to forgive after an apology? Our human nature says sure you can forgive. Naturally, though, you’ll be cautious, and you don’t want to be ignorant. But if they are sorry, do we ever fully forgive or do we demand things from them, maybe even lording it over them?
Jesus tells Peter to forgive an unlimited amount of times. There is no symbolism in these numbers as if forgiveness is a numbers game. It isn’t! It has nothing to do with keeping track and keeping score. Maybe this caught Peter off guard, maybe he even thought this was unbelievable. Jesus gives to us a parable to fully answer Peter’s question.
Jesus describes to us a king and two slaves. However, we can’t think of these slaves as what we might think of as slaves working in the king’s household because the sum of money here is an immense amount of money. These slaves would have been more like governors appointed by the king to rule over a part of the kingdom and to make sure they turn in the taxes and revenues of their province. But although they were like governors, they were still subject to the king and were nothing but slaves in the king’s eyes.
And so, it was time for the king to collect his payments and noticed he was short. Our text says he was short 10,000 talents, because of this one governor. A talent was worth AT LEAST 1,000 dollars in today’s standards. So the debt here would be about 10-12 to up to 20 million dollars! It was an unpayable amount for this slave. So I guess, make it feel more like several billion, because millions don’t seem as much today. Either way, he owed a lot of money! How did that happen!? You’d think you’d realize after a while that you were getting into trouble! But I guess I could understand:
The tough part about paper money not being used today, and plastic being used more, it’s sooo easy to spend money. I love getting mail. So i’ll buy something because I like seeing that delivered package sitting on the front door step. Then I get groceries. Well, I don’t have enough cash for that so I will just swipe the card. Money doesn’t seem real when you use plastic! So all of a sudden, when I look at that credit card balance: yikes! Debt can happen in one fell swipe of a card. College students (and usually their parents) know the idea of crippling debt. Even if you make a good living after college, school loans weigh down on you for years! And then that bill comes in the mail. nooooooooo! Ugh! I didn’t think money was a real thing! For this slave, he was in false security, until the king called for the payment. Ugh, that’s a lot of money that he couldn’t pay. He owed a lot. He was in debt.
Often our sin is considered debt. In fact in Matthew 6:12, Jesus teaches us how to pray the Lord’s prayer where he says, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” But what are we in debt for? What do we owe him? When we see what God’s Word has to say, we see that God demands perfection and completely obeying God’s commands. Our sin and our debt keeps stacking up. God comes to us and demands perfection like the King came to the slave and demanded the payment. God hands us the bill and says, you’ve been living in this false security, thinking that you are ok, and that sin isn’t a big deal. But do you see everything you’ve done? You need to pay me for everything you owe!
We may look at God and say, “It can’t be that bad!” I should be able to do that no problem. We may try to turn our lives around and be better people, and at least reduce the amount of debt that we owe. However, we will never cancel the debt. The debt will always be there. We come to the conclusion, that we, like this slave, are drowning in debt. We are spiritually bankrupt before God because of our sin. We are at a loss of words because we’ve been living ignorantly and selfishly. We are helpless, and we deserve nothing but the worst of punishments from our King. Our spiritual debt is not just dangerous but lethal. We can’t do anything but go before God with our face to the floor, crying out because we can’t pay it off on our own.
Once in a while, a radio show will do a special promotion. Usually, a person will call in and be randomly selected by the radio dj. The caller tells the dj how much money they owe on their credit card bill at that moment and the dj announces that they will pay that bill for that person. However, they usually only pay a person’s bill up to a certain amount, like one thousand dollars. But when our God and our King saw our debt, he simply dismissed it, all of it. Because of God’s mercy and because of Jesus, who took on our payment, we are perfect in his eyes. We are spiritually debt free. We are forgiven.
Is my friend forgiven? The friend that hurt me. The friend that ruined my life. I don’t think I can even call him a friend! Is he really forgiven?
What I love about old Mobster movies is that there are always big tough guys who go around demanding money. They will do anything to make sure they get their dough, even if it means destroying property. I kind of imagine that same picture as Jesus described this slave dealing with another slave. He needed his money! So he picked up the other slave, choking him, spitting into his face inquiring where his money was. Maybe he even dragged him across the table, where food had been prepared. All for 100 denarii. Just a few thousand dollars today. Nothing compared to the millions and millions owed by this slave. How could he be so quick to forget the debt that was just cancelled for him? When he heard about his, the king was furious and had him jailed.
When someone has sinned against us and they plead with you to forgive them, holding grudges and not forgiving that person is like putting that person into an emotional jail, making them suffer for a sin that Jesus has paid for. Satan wants us to think that we get satisfaction by holding on to a grudge or even seeking revenge. But, as Jesus pictured for us, that can be spiritual poison that threatens us eternally. If we can’t forgive someone, why shouldn’t God do the same thing to us? Remember: God has forgiven all of our sins. Yes, even the sins of our Christian brother or sister who has wronged us.
Compared with our sins against God, our sins against each other are nothing. I see that more and more as I study God’s word and I see how wretched I am by nature. My sin weighs me down, causes me to think more highly of myself than I ought to, and I treat those who have wronged me like dirt. And God provides for us this picture that sweeps our proud legs out from underneath us. We deserve nothing. And yet, God’s mercy is unbelievable. He simply smiles at us and loves us. It’s like when someone smiles at you, you can’t help but smile back! In other words, God’s mercy results in our mercy towards others!
When my friend sinned against me, that hurt! In the world’s eye, he isn’t worth forgiving. But in God’s eyes, he is a redeemed, forgiven, and loved child of God. Our epistle lesson reminds us again: “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ. Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved children.” As a dearly love child of God, as someone who was swimming in spiritually bankruptcy, with God’s help, I forgive those who wrong me because I will always remember the way that God forgave my debt. Amen.
The peace and mercy of God, who dismissed our debt, and which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.