As We Forgive Others

Twenty-Second Sunday after Holy Trinity

Text: Matthew 18:21-35

Grace and mercy to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ (Amen) 

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. . .We all have those fifty-seven words of the Lord's Prayer memorized, but they are always worthy of some slow reflection. Today reflect on this petition:  Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. 

          Does that stick in your craw a bit?  As we forgive others.  Do you hold a grudge and refuse to forgive? Do you say you will forgive but not forget? Is this the sort of forgiveness you want from God? Repent.

          Jesus today tells a parable of a man who had gotten himself into ten thousand talents worth of debt to his master.  With one talent you could retire comfortably.  This man is in debt 10,000 retirement packages.  This man is in debt well over a billion dollars.  No slave could repay this: so he was to be sold into slavery along with his family as a proper sacrifice to settle his account with the master.

          What did he have to do but weep and beg? So he fell to his knees and did just that. And in his blathering he muttered, "Be patient with me and I will pay back everything."  Now that was just a silly thing to say.  The servant had lost the 10,000 talents of silver which were the master's; he had no way of getting it back.  But the master had pity and showed mercy. The debt was canceled. The servant went free.

          As it was with this debt laden servant, so it is with you. You owed a debt to God that you could not repay. Your sins earned the penalty of death and damnation. Do not let those words roll off your ears: do not think sin a light thing. For you know how sin had to be atoned for: look to the cross and see how seriously God takes sin. There was no other way to pay for it except for Jesus, God in the flesh, to suffer and die for it. That is the mercy of God: he himself paid the debt, just like the master paid debt the 10,000 talents of silver to free his servant in this parable. The Lord paid it in full, he paid it in blood, he paid it on the cross. And you too are forgiven and free.

          And so the servant goes on his way, forgiven and free with a spring in his step.  But on his way home he spotted a fellow man who owed him a hundred denarii.  The servant grabs the man and demands that he pay him back this debt. The debtor begs for mercy, for patience and he would pay it back, but our servant throws him in debtors' prison until the money can be paid.

         He had just been forgiven north of a billion dollars and minutes later he didn't have the common sense to forgive a guy who owed him but a hundred denarii!  But before you look down on him too sharply, make sure you know what a debt of 100 denarii means. A denarius is a days wage as Jesus tells us in Matthew 20.  So a hundred denarii is not a few bucks, but a hundred days' wages: a fourth of a year's pay.

          So how can the debt free servant afford to forgive this debt? He has no debt but he also has no money to pay his bills.  Can you afford to just give up a third of a year's salary? Don't you have a mortgage to pay? Don't you have a few outstanding doctor bills?  Don't you have to heat your house this winter? You can't give up a third of your earnings!  Impossible! The debt free servant needs cash.

          So the servant does just what any reasonable person would do, thinking about the best interest of his family and their financial security he tells the guy who owes him the cash that he has to pay up. If he can't he'll have him tossed into jail so he can get his money back.  But the master hears about this and is not pleased. He says, "Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had mercy on you." And he turned him over to the jailers to be tortured until he had paid his original 10,000 talent/billion dollar debt – that is, for the rest of his life. Thus endeth the parable. And Jesus remarks, "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."  Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

          Not little trespasses either: we're not talking about forgiving someone who cut you off in traffic on your way to work. That's easy enough, after all it's only reasonable to forgive such little debts. But what about big debts where forgiveness would just be unreasonable?  What about your father who was a drunk?  What about your husband or wife who ran off with somebody else? What about that jerk of a boss at work who makes your life miserable? What about that gal at the office who stole your idea and got the promotion? What about that kid at school who is constantly bullying you? What about how your children treat you now that you are old? What about whatever is in your heart right now that you can't let go of? What about that thing about which you've said, "Well, I can forgive but I can't forget"? Because you see, that isn't forgiving your brother – and you know it in your heart.

          Well, "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."  Now how does that petition strike you?

          Repent, beloved. You are saved by God's grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ alone: your debt went far beyond a mere billion dollars, it was an eternal debt. But Jesus died for your sins and rose for your salvation and that's the end of the story. Trust in him and you too shall be saved. But what Jesus is saying in this parable is that saving faith cannot coexist with an unforgiving heart; faith cannot coexist with willful sin.

          So what we have here today is a kind of spiritual alarm bell.  Jesus reminds you every time you pray the Lord's Prayer that those who have faith forgive as the Lord forgives. If you look into your heart today and see that there is some grudge, some debt, that you hold on to, that you want to hold on to, that you cherish and feed and keep healthy by constantly remembering it and keeping it before your eyes and talking about it with whomever will listen, then today's text is a solemn alarm for you, WARNING: YOUR FAITH IS NOT HEALTHY.  If you continue to feed this feeling of unforgiveness in your heart it will eventually eat up your faith. Your faith in Christ will be lost in a sea of hatred - crushed by a rock of unmovable unforgiveness.

          So what to do if you find this warning touching home to you today?  If you are convicted by our Lord's warning today, beware for your greatest temptation is just coming. Because now your greatest temptation will be to try harder to forgive. You will try to will yourself into forgiving the truly wicked things people have done to you (remember we're not talking about petty little debts, but real, meaty, hard-to-forget, wicked sins people have committed against you).  If you try to try harder to be a forgiving person you will fail. You will succumb to your hatred and unforgiveness even more because you will be thinking of it even more. You will begin to feel that old feeling of spite and you will try to say, "No I should be forgiving! If I'm not then God won't forgive me!" And you will brood about how to forgive this wrong done you and only find yourself spending even more time each day wallowing in the thought of that wrong. And your faith will die all the quicker.

          If trying harder to be a forgiving person won't work, what will?  Look to Jesus Christ who has forgiven every debt that can be incurred – in him is the way out, in him is life. If you keep a debt close to your heart, turn your eyes away from it, away from yourself, away from your inability to forgive and cast your eyes on Christ.  He is there on the cross earning forgiveness for you and for your neighbor. Look to him, focus on him, hold on to him and in time your faith will grow. In time his Spirit will change your heart. First you will actually desire to forgive as you have been forgiven. Then, in time, perhaps more time that you have left on earth, but in time, you will actually forgive from your heart.   Look toJesus. If you feel frightened that you are not a forgiving enough person to be saved, then forget about yourself and look to Jesus.  If you are afraid you have lost your faith and are damned, forget about your faith and cling to Christ.  If your faith is weak come where forgiveness and the power to forgive is given out, leave your burdens in the pew and come and eat his body given for the forgiveness of sins and drink the blood poured out for your salvation. The line starts right there.