Forgiven and Forgiving PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Saturday, 08 August 2015 21:54

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

Forgiven and Forgiving: Matthew 18:21-35

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

August 9, 2014

Matthew 18:21-35 CEB

21 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive as many as seven times?”

22 Jesus said, “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy-seven times.

23 Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle accounts, they brought to him a servant who owed him ten thousand bags of gold.  25 Because the servant didn’t have enough to pay it back, the master ordered that he should be sold, along with his wife and children and everything he had, and that the proceeds should be used as payment. 26 But the servant fell down, kneeled before him, and said, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’ 27 The master had compassion on that servant, released him, and forgave the loan.

28 “When that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundred coins. He grabbed him around the throat and said, ‘Pay me back what you owe me.’

29 “Then his fellow servant fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’ 30 But he refused. Instead, he threw him into prison until he paid back his debt.

31 “When his fellow servants saw what happened, they were deeply offended. They came and told their master all that happened. 32 His master called the first servant and said, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you appealed to me. 33 Shouldn’t you also have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 His master was furious and handed him over to the guard responsible for punishing prisoners, until he had paid the whole debt.

35 “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you if you don’t forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Jesus is always calling us to do what we cannot do:  to love our enemies, to bless those who persecute us, to pray without ceasing, to be perfect as God in heaven is perfect.  The New Testament calls us to live these impossibilities because what is impossible with human beings is possible with God.  Holding on to that promise we put one foot in front of the other to seek to live out these commands and discover that what is commanded of us is given as a gift.

Let us Pray:  Oh Holy Spirit, guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might forgive as we have been forgiven.  Amen

This week’s story confronts us with the issue of forgiveness.  In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’

Isn’t it sad that we seldom pause in that prayer to let those words speak to our hearts?  This week we have to pause because we are faced with a difficult teaching and an awkward story about forgiveness.  Both challenge us to love one another as God has loved us.

Matthew was writing about Jesus’ instructing the community to tell the truth in love, to confront and speak honestly to one another, and to let go of that which cannot be restored.

Upon hearing this Peter, apparently trying to limit his responsibility, responds:  “Well, just how many times must I do this?  How many times must I forgive? ... Seven times?”  Peter is thinking that’s a pretty generous suggestion – a holy number for an inspired thought.

But Peter is thinking about quantity.  Jesus’ parable transforms his question into a matter far deeper.   Jesus teaches that life in God's reign calls for a daily release of all that keeps us in debt to one another and to God.  Jesus tells us a story to drive home the point.

Now we, who consider ourselves forgiving and saved, might be tempted to reduce this story to one in which the King represents God, casting judgment on sinners.   But if we do that, it makes God arbitrary in first offering and then withdrawing forgiveness and it makes God one who "tortures" those who fail to obey.   That is certainly not the God that Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5-7)

As usual Jesus exaggerates!   The debt of 10,000 bags of gold would be around a billion dollars today.   Even the "small" debt of a hundred coins - they would have been denarius, each a full day's wages – a debt of a 100 days wages would be far more than an ordinary person might have incurred or ever could hope to repay!

Remember this story is told to those for whom forgiveness of debt was a very real issue.  Unpaid debt meant slavery and prison.  Their whole lives as well as their futures were bound up with their fiscal obligations.  For them, pardon of debt had little to do with guilt.  It represented, instead, the restoration to life and the renewal of hope.

One exegete suggests that we look at the king as a 1st century potentate.  Then the offer of forgiveness that is later withdrawn is understood as protecting the king's security, reputation, and power against potential rivals.  In this scenario both the offer of forgiveness and the threat of punishment are worldly responses to establish the King’s power.

So, the parable invites us to contrast forgiveness used as a weapon to enhance one's power (as the king wields it) with God's call to forgive without an eye toward personal credit.

The parable recalls Jesus' teaching in the Lord's Prayer.  Only as we treat others with authentic love can we know how deeply God seeks to offer each of us a fresh start, beginning this very day.

But, how do we reconcile Jesus’ introduction: “the Kingdom of God is like this”, and not have the master be representative of God?   On a lazy Saturday morning, when I thought the sermon was already “finished” I reread the scripture and the Spirit opened a new (to me) window.   It seems to me that story is to be taken much more literally than I first presumed.

What if the story is about gratitude and the need to have gratitude in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?  Understand, that I’m not talking about after-life.  I’m thinking of the eternal life lived in the presence of God that begins in our mortality.  I’m talking about our lives now, today and this week.

In this regard the parable tells that if we have no gratitude for the blessings, grace and even forgiveness that has been extended to us, then we cannot extend grace to those around us.  AND, when we cannot extend grace/forgiveness to the people we live with, we exclude ourselves from the Reign of God.

Look at the lynch pin in the story.   The King was moved by compassion.  That’s an important word in the gospels.  It is a word used of Jesus, usually before he heals a person.  Literally, it is that gut wrenching feeling that you get when you are so moved by a situation you just have to do something.  The King was moved by compassion; but the unforgiving servant did not share that compassion with his debtor.  This lack of compassion, this failure of gratitude, this hardness of heart is what drove him from the reign of God.

We can forgive only when we can begin to accept/ to realize/ to understand how much we have already been forgiven.   We can show compassion to others only when we begin to glimpse the gut wrenching compassion that has been shown to us.

This story teaches us that the ability to forgive is the result of gratitude for the grace already shown to us.  I find myself remembering the apostle John’s declaration, “We love because God first loved us.” 1John 4:19  It follows then, that we forgive others because as we recognize how much we have been forgiven.

This is hard stuff.  Hurt feelings and destructive memories are not to be discounted.  On the other hand neither should we discount living in anger.  I suspect that the reason Jesus tells us to forgive as God forgives is because he understands the dangers of not forgiving, the dangers of holding on to anger, resentment, and fear.

Our attitude of forgiveness is not for the other person's sake, but for our own wellbeing because holding deeply held grudges affects me more than the begrudged person.  Forgiveness heals me.  It can remove my inner turmoil.  Forgiving the other doesn't restore the relationship, but it must to precede any chance of reconciliation.

When we resist the Spirit’s nudge to forgive our trespassers, when our hearts are too hard to feel compassion, we distance ourselves from Jesus and the Reign of heaven.  The Christian life is shaped by gratitude.  Theologian Karl Barth wrote: “Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth.”

I think that is the point Jesus was trying to make in this story.  Unless we truly accept the grace that has been extended to us, unless we accept that we have been forgiven and are free to move into the reign of God; then it really is impossible for us to forgive those who hurt us.  The hard news is that forgiving is a condition of the reign of God and if we cannot let go of the past we cannot move into eternal life.

But here is the problem:  we, by ourselves, cannot forgive, but as we strive to forgive we are given God’s forgiveness as a gift.  Here is the good news:  We are not called to create forgiveness.  That is beyond us.  We are called instead to participate in a forgiveness given to us as a gift.  In Jesus Christ we are forgiven, and in Jesus we can forgive those who sin against us.  Granted this might also be hard news, but “nobody said it was gonna be easy!”

Christians are called to be forgiving towards all who have sinned against us whether or not they are repentant.   Our attitude of forgiveness is not for the other person's sake, but for our own wellbeing.  When I hold on to the anger ill feelings toward the one who hurt me they infect my own soul.  Only when I can let go of my woundedness, can I be healed.

In the story the King is not God, equivocating on forgiveness and torture is not God’s judgment.  Instead the torture is the anger of resentment, which we continue to harbor until it separates us from our brothers and sisters and from God.

So Jesus tells us to forgive and keep on forgiving 70 times 7, because only by forgiving can I truly understand what God has forgiven me.  When I realize the cost of forgiveness by offering it to others, then I begin to realize the cost of God’s love for me.  God calls us to forgive the small debt in order to appreciate the greatness of our own forgiven debt.

Meister Eckhart said, "God does not ask anything else of you other than for you to let yourself go and let God be God in you."  God in you longs to forgive so that there can be healing and wholeness.

It is in forgiving, in praying for the healing of the victimizer and for God to forgive them, that we find our own healing.  God welcomes our brokenness with open arms ready to embrace us.  God expects us to do the same to others.

Let us join together in confessing our sins together, that we might once again know the forgiveness of God and share it with those around us.


Prayer of Confession

It is never easy for us to confess but deep down inside, we know that we are graced yet we have trouble being grace-full to others.  We are forgiven yet we are eager to judge and punish all who hurt us. We are freed yet we find ways to put restrictions on people we fear.  Forgive us, Servant God. You show mercy more often than we deserve; you pardon us more times than we can count.    … Silence

Assurance of Pardon

God is Good, God is forgiving, God's love endures forever.

Friends believe the good news: In Jesus Christ we are forgiven! Alleluia! Amen!

Hymn of Response “Forgive Our Sins as We Forgive” PH 347




An afterthought: The Kingdom of God is like the jubilee.  All debts are off!  But all debts means those who are owed to us as well as those we have incurred and owe to others.  We must forgive to enter the reign of God. pi



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