The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Matthew 18:21-35

THE GOSPEL FOR TODAY IS A CONTINUATION OF THE GOSPEL FOR LAST WEEK. AT THIS POINT IN MATTHEW’S NARRATIVE, PETER SEEMS TO BE GETTING SOME SENSE OF WHAT IS GOING ON. HE HAS BOLDLY PROCLAIMED THAT JESUS IS THE MESSIAH, HAS HAD HIS NAME CHANGED, AND, I AM CERTAIN, WAS FEELING PRETTY GOOD ABOUT WHAT JESUS SAID ABOUT BUILDING HIS CHURCH ON “THIS ROCK;” WHICH, NO DOUBT, PETER THOUGHT MEANT HIM. AFTER THE DISCUSSION TURNED TO THE NEED TO FORGIVE THOSE WHO SIN AGAINST OTHERS IN THE CHURCH, PETER DECIDED TO POSE A QUESTION TO JESUS. “LORD, IF ANOTHER MEMBER OF THE CHURCH SINS AGAINST ME, HOW OFTEN SHOULD I FORGIVE? AS MANY AS SEVEN TIMES?”

ALL OF US HAVE BEEN IN THE POSITION OF WANTING TO ASK A QUESTION OF THE TEACHER, PROFESSOR, OR PRIEST IN A WAY THAT THE QUESTION SHOWS HOW MUCH WE HAVE MASTERED THE TEACHING. THE RABBIS TAUGHT THAT WE MUST FORGIVE THOSE WHO SIN AGAINST US, AND EVEN GIVE THEM A SECOND CHANCE IF THEY DO IT AGAIN. FORGIVING A THIRD TIME WAS SEEN AS AN EXTREME ACT OF MERCY TOWARD THE SINNER. MORE THAN THREE TIMES, AS WE SAY IN NEW YORK; “FORGET ABOUT IT!” PETER KNOWS THAT JESUS’ TEACHING GOES BEYOND WHAT THE RABBIS TAUGHT, SO HE GOES BEYOND THE RABBINICAL TEACHING AND OFFERS SEVEN TIMES AS THE EPITOME OF MERCY. BESIDES, SEVEN IS A MYSTICAL NUMBER OF COMPLETION, AND HE KNOWS THAT JESUS THINKS BIG. WHEN JESUS REPLIES, “NOT SEVEN TIMES, BUT, I TELL YOU, SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN,” PETER AND THE REST OF THE DISCIPLES ARE STUNNED. (77 IS A POOR TRANSLATION FROM THE GREEK) TO FORGIVE 490 TIMES IS AN IMPOSSIBILITY; ONE JUST CAN’T KEEP TRACK. WELL, THAT IS JESUS’ POINT; WHICH HE HAMMERS HOME WITH THE PARABLE OF THE KING AND HIS SLAVES.

THE HYPERBOLE JESUS USES IN ESTABLISHING THE RELATIVE DIFFERENCE IN THE DEBTS OF THE TWO SLAVES IS, IN FACT, THE CRUX OF THE PARABLE. THE FIRST SLAVE OWED HIS LORD 10, 000 TALENTS, WHILE THE SECOND SLAVE OWED THE FIRST A HUNDRED DENARII. A TALENT WAS A WEIGHT OF GOLD OR SILVER; IF GOLD IT WAS WORTH 20 YEARS WAGES, IF SILVER IT WAS 15 YEARS WAGES. THE DEBT WAS EITHER 200,000 OR 150,000 YEARS WAGES. THE DEBT OF 100 DENARII WAS THAT OF ONE HUNDRED DAYS WAGES.

EVEN THOUGH THE FIRST SLAVE BEGGED FOR MORE TIME TO PAY BACK WHAT HE OWED, THE DEBT WAS IMPOSSIBLE TO REPAY OVER MANY LIFETIMES. OUT OF PITY, THE KING FORGAVE THIS ABSURDLY IMPOSSIBLE DEBT. AS SOON AS THE FIRST SLAVE WAS RELEASED, AND LEFT THE PRESENCE OF THE KING, HE RAN INTO A FELLOW SLAVE WHO OWED HIM A HUNDRED DENARII. TURNING INSTANTLY FROM DEBTOR TO CREDITOR, THE FORGIVEN SLAVE GRABBED HIS FELLOW SLAVE BY THE THROAT AND DEMANDED IMMEDIATE PAYMENT OF A REASONABLE DEBT THAT COULD BE RE-PAYED OVER TIME. HE WHO HAD BEEN FORGIVEN WOULD NOT FORGIVE ANOTHER, AND THREW HIM INTO PRISON UNTIL HE PAID WHAT HE OWED. THE END OF THE PARABLE, WHEN THE KING TURNS OVER THE FIRST SLAVE TO BE TORTURED UNTIL HE CAN PAY HIS DEBT, WHICH WAS NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN, AND THE WARNING JESUS GIVES HIS DISCIPLES, SUMS UP THE TEACHING: THE UNFORGIVING WILL NOT BE FORGIVEN.

TO TRULY FORGIVE FROM THE HEART MEANS TO LET GO OF THE PAST AND TO TRY TO REBUILD THE RELATIONSHIP THAT WAS BROKEN BY THE ACTIONS OF THE OTHER. TO NOT FORGIVE, TO KEEP A LIST OF THE WRONGS AGAINST US, IS A FUTILE ATTEMPT TO SOMEHOW CHANGE WHAT HAPPENED. WE DWELL ON IT, OVER AND OVER, AS IF WE COULD CHANGE WHAT HAPPENED, UNTIL IT TURNS OUR HEART BITTER AND BECOMES A PART OF US. FORGIVENESS IS NEITHER OPTIONAL NOR CONTINGENT; JUST AS THE DISCIPLES OF JESUS HAVE THE POWER TO BIND AND TO LOOSE, THE FAILURE TO FORGIVE REBOUNDS UPON THE DISCIPLE. REMEMBER WHAT WE PRAY, OVER AND OVER, “FORGIVE US OUR SINS AS WE FORGIVE THE SINS OF OTHERS.” BECAUSE THE GRACE OF GOD IS OVERWHELMINGLY ABUNDANT, BEYOND OUR ABILITY TO GRASP, SO MUST OUR FORGIVENESS BE OVERWHELMINGLY ABUNDANT TOWARDS OTHER.

THIS DOES NOT MEAN WE ARE TO BE DOORMATS FOR OTHERS, OR FAIL TO STAND UP TO THOSE WHO WOULD DO US OR OTHERS HARM. WE MUST FORGIVE THE SINNER, BUT NOT THE SIN. AS WE HEARD LAST WEEK, IT IS NECESSARY TO CONFRONT THE SINNER ABOUT HIS OR HER SIN; BUT CONFRONTATION WITHOUT FORGIVENESS IS POINTLESS BECAUSE IT LEADS TO ANGER AND DIVISION. FORGIVENESS WITHOUT CONFRONTATION IS USELESS, BECAUSE IT FAILS TO ADDRESS THE BREAK IN OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE OTHER. SOMETIMES, AS IN THE CASE OF SPOUSAL OR CHILD ABUSE, WE MAY HAVE TO BREAK OFF THE RELATIONSHIP EVEN AS WE FORGIVE THE ONE WHO HAS CAUSED THE ABUSE.

TO FORGIVE THE ONE WHO HAS SINNED AGAINST US IS THE HARDEST THING DEMANDED OF THE DISCIPLES OF JESUS. IT IS HARD BECAUSE WHEN WE ARE HURT OUR PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL PAIN IS PARAMOUNT IN OUR LIVES. WE HAVE BEEN WRONGED, AND OUR SENSE OF JUSTICE AND FAIRNESS HAS BEEN VIOLATED; AND THAT VIOLATION MAY EXTEND TO OUR PHYSICAL BODIES. WE CAN THINK OF NOTHING OTHER THAN HOW WE HAVE BEEN INJURED. JESUS CALLS US, IN THE MIDST OF OUR HURT, TO THINK OF THE ONE WHO HURT US, AND, WHILE CONFRONTING THE SIN, TO LOVE AND FORGIVE THE SINNER JUST AS WE HAVE BEEN LOVED AND FORGIVEN.

THE POWER AND THE DEMANDS OF THIS TEACHING IS MAGNIFIED BY THE FACT THAT THIS IS A PART OF THE LAST NARRATIVE OF JESUS IN GALILEE. FROM THIS POINT ON, JESUS IS HEADING TO JERUSALEM WHERE HE WILL BECOME GOD’S INSTRUMENT FOR THE GREATEST ACT OF GRACE IN ALL THE HISTORY OF CREATION. THE WILDLY ABUNDANT FORGIVENESS OF THE KING IN THE PARABLE IS NOTHING COMPARED WITH WHAT JESUS WILL DO IN JERUSALEM. HE WILL BECOME GOD’S MEANS OF FORGIVENESS FOR ALL THE SINS OF THE WORLD, PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE. WE COULD NEVER DO ENOUGH OR BE GOOD ENOUGH TO RESTORE THE BREAK IN THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN GOD AND OUR SELVES BECAUSE OF OUR SINS; NOT EVEN IF WE LIVED A HUNDRED LIFETIMES. IN ONE ALMOST UNBELIEVABLE ACT, GOD, THROUGH THE BLOOD OF HIS ONLY SON, FORGIVES US OUR SINS AND RESTORES US TO A LOVING RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM IN JESUS.

IN THE GRACE OF GOD IN JESUS, THE FORGIVENESS OF GOD WIPES OUR SLATES CLEAN, AND OUR SINS ARE REMEMBERED NO MORE. FOR THE SAKE OF HIS SON, THE DISCIPLES OF JESUS, PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE ARE MADE RIGHTEOUS IN HIS SIGHT, AND WE BECOME HIS BELOVED AND LOVING CHILDREN. SINCE GOD HAS DONE SO MUCH FOR US BY HIS FORGIVING GRACE, SO WE MUST, AS WE HAVE BEEN COMMANDED TO DO, SHOW THAT SAME FORGIVING GRACE TO OTHERS. AS THE CHILDREN OF GOD, OUR PRAYER MUST BE ALWAYS, “FORGIVE US OUR SINS, AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO SIN AGAINST US.” FOR US, THERE IS NO OTHER WAY TO LIVE THAN THE LIFE OF LOVE AS INSTRUMENTS OF GOD’S GRACE.
AMEN

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