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24 Ordinary A 14

Posted on 15 Sep 2014, Preacher: Dena Williams
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Slave

Readings:
Genesis 50:14—22
Psalm 103
Romans 14:1–12
Matthew 18:21—35

The Holy Gospel according to the Community of St. Matthew in the 18th Chapter
Glory to you, O Lord

Then Peter came and said to Jesus,
“Lord, if another member of the church sins against me,
how often should I forgive?
As many as seven times?”

Jesus said to him,
“Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy times seven.

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.

When the king began the reckoning,
one slave who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him;

and, as the could not pay,
the king, his lor,d ordered him to be sold,
together with his wife and children and all his possessions,
and payment to be made.

So the slave fell on his knees before the king, saying, ‘
Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’

And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.

But that same slave, as he went out,
came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a mere hundred denarii;
and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’

Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him,
‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’

But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt.

When his fellow slaves saw what had happened,
they were greatly distressed,
and they went and reported to the king, their lord, all that had taken place.

Then his lord summoned the slave and said to him, ‘You wicked slave!
I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.

Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’

And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.

So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

The Gospel of the Lord
Praise to you, O Christ

Forgive Us Our Debts . . .

Peter
Peter who proclaims Jesus Messiah, Son of God
Peter who receives the keys to the kingdom
Peter who walks on water
Peter who sinks beneath the waves

Looks like Peter is fully human, isn’t he?
Looks like he’s a sinner saved by grace through faith for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Looks like us, doesn’t he?

Today Peter has a question.
It is a good question for a Jew living in Roman occupied territory in the first century.
It is a good question for an American living in the US who has come to worship on this Sunday.

“Lord, if my brother or sister sins against me,
how often should I forgive?”

It is a good question Peter!
We would all do well to seek a better understanding of forgiveness.
How often should I forgive?

Peter, however, does not stop with this question,
he tacks on a suggestion.
“How often should I forgive?
As many as seven times?”

Now any of us who has ever had a sibling . . .
or been married . . .
or been a parent . . .
knows that Peter has got to be kidding!
“As many as seven times?”
I have been married 32 years,
and, I have to tell you Peter,
seven times is just woefully inadequate!
That number, seven,
might have gotten us through the first week or two,
but that’s about it.

Jesus seems to agree with me.
He answers Peter’s question,
“Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy times seven.”
Let’s see, 490 times . . . that seems more like it,
if he means 490 times for the first year of marriage!
Jesus’ point is that we need to forgive one another
a whole lot more than seven times, Peter.

To illustrate his point Jesus tells a story,
a story about how forgiveness looks in the kingdom of heaven.
A king wishes to settle accounts with his slaves.

One of the debtors who is brought to the king
owes him ten thousand talents.
Ten thousand talents—
in that day and time,
at normal wages for a day’s labor,
the slave would need to give the king all of his earnings
for the next 150,000 years!
And you think your credit card debt is bad!
Wow!

Well, since the slave can’t pay,
will, in all reality never be able to pay this debt,
the king decides to cut his losses.
He orders the slave to be sold,
together with his wife and children and all his possessions,
and payment to be made.

Now I am fairly certain,
the credit habits of Americans will instantly improve
if Visa and Master Card institute this sort of policy,
if, instead of declaring bankruptcy,
you and your whole family and everything you own are to be sold to the highest bidder.
We might be a bit more careful about our spending!

Fortunately, for this slave, his creditor has an appeals process.
The slave falls on his knees before the king, saying,
‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’

No you won’t!
Who do you think you’re kidding?

The king knows and you know that there is no way on
God’s green earth that you will ever be able to pay off this debt!
Not if you worked the rest of your life!
Not if you and your wife and your children all worked the rest of your lives!
This debt is simply not repayable!

Well, that’s what the king might say,
and he would be right
and the slave would get exactly what he deserves.
But that’s not what happens.
Instead, out of compassion for him, the king of that slave pardons him and forgives him the debt.
Just like that!

Just like that!
Have you ever been forgiven that easily?
Ever been forgiven, just like that?
It’s a good thing isn’t it?
Your relationship with the one you hurt is restored.
Your guilt is relieved.
You feel so good that you repent—
you say you’re sorry,
you promise never to do it again,
you try to make right whatever it was you did wrong.
It feels so good, to be forgiven, just like that.
What a gift to be forgiven, just like that.

It’s the kind of forgiveness we often give to children.
Out of compassion, just like that!
It’s  a little more complicated when we try to forgive other adults, isn’t it?
Sometimes there is no repentance on the part of those who have hurt us.
No one says they’re sorry,
there is no promise to do better,
there is no attempt to make things right.
The one who hurt us may never know or acknowledge their guilt.
Then this forgiveness business is harder, isn’t it?

It’s harder, but it’s not impossible, I promise.
It’s not a “just like that” experience.
It’s a journey,
and at the end of the journey
there may or may not be restored relationship,
there may or may not be remorse,
but there is something else.
Even in those circumstances when there is no opportunity
or willingness for the one who has wronged you to say they’re sorry,
even then,
there is something else.

And that something else is freedom,
freedom from a need for revenge,
freedom from resentment,
freedom to move past your hurt, your pain.
In ancient words we pray,
“Restore unto me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with your free spirit.”
That’s what lies at the end of the forgiveness journey—
restored joy and a free spirit.
Sometimes it takes a long time,
the road is rough and winding.
But the rewards—
restored joy and a free spirit!
Who could ask for more?

And one more thing—a little advice from a relatively experienced traveler.
It’s best not to try to make the trip alone.
A friend, a confidant, someone who cares,
someone to help carry the load,
someone to help you find the way,
a fellow traveler or two or three is essential.

And one more thing—a little more advice.
There is a way to know when you arrive at your destination.
When you get there,
when you arrive at the place of forgiveness,
there is a sign by the road.
Actually there is a series of signs, burma shave style.
The signs read:
“You can now pray . . .
God’s best intentions . . .
in the life . . .
of the person who wronged you.
You’re free at last!”
Wait!
Did you drive by too fast?
What did the signs say?
“You can now pray . . .
God’s best intentions . . .
in the life . . .
of the person who wronged you.
You’re free at last!”

That sounds easy enough,
to pray God’s best intentions for this person.
until we realize there is a huge difference between what
we think God’s intentions ought to be,
and what God’s best intentions really are.

Early on in the journey our prayer might be:
Dear God, I release this person who wronged me to your care.
But, God, in case you can’t figure out what needs to happen to this person,
what this person deserves for having wronged me,
let me help you a little.
Let me tell you exactly what this person deserves!

Our prayer needs to be and, hopefully, eventually becomes:
“Dear God, I release this person who wronged me to your care.
I pray that you will care for him and that his life be filled with your goodness and grace.”

And even as we pray that prayer,
We do not forgot how we were wronged.
Because we too are sinners saved by grace.
We find ourselves from time to time wanting just a little revenge.
Our forgiveness is not perfect.
We are not King Jesus.

Oh, and one more thing—no really, just one more—I think.
To forgive never means that we intentionally allow ourselves to become a victim.
To forgive never means that we intentionally allow ourselves to be beat up—
physically or emotionally or spiritually—over and over again by the same person.
To forgive never means that we intentionally allow ourselves to be trapped at a place in our lives where we are not safe.
That is not what God wants for us.
It is not what God means by forgiveness.

Well, there’s more to Jesus’ story.
Some unpleasantness follows.
That same slave, the one who was forgiven his debt,
as he goes out,
comes upon one of his fellow slaves who owes him a hundred denarii.

Now a hundred denarii is about 100 days wages;
it’s 1/600,000 of the debt of the first slave!
It’s a debt that can probably be repaid.

Our forgiven slave seizes his debtor by the throat,
‘Pay what you owe.’
Then his fellow slave falls down and pleads with him,
‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’
And he could have!
They could have arranged a payment plan,
and chances are quite good that in a year or two
the debt could well have been paid!
But our forgiven slave refuses his friend.
He has him thrown into prison until he pays the debt.

Now it seems to me that the forgiven slave
not only has a mean streak,
he’s just not very bright!
Assuming there are no work release programs,
he just guaranteed that he will not ever be repaid his hundred denarii!

When his fellow slaves see what happened,
they are greatly distressed,
and they go and report to the king all that took place.
Then his king summons the forgiven slave and reminds him of the mercy extended toward him:
‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.

Then the King asks the forgiven slave a question:
“Should you not have mercy on your fellow slave,
as I had mercy on you?’ “

Have mercy as I had mercy on you!
As I had mercy on you!
‘Cuz I’m taking it back,
I’m revoking my mercy.

And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.
In other words, to be tortured forever and ever.

The first slave is forgiven, but then,
when he fails to forgive others,
the king snatches back his forgiveness.
This king is not King Jesus either.
For our King, King Jesus,
the one who calls us to forgive others,
is so completely in love with us,
that he forgives us,
even when we fail to forgive others.

The king in our story set limits on his mercy,
set limits on his own willingness to forgive.
Our King, King Jesus does not.
Our King, loves us with an unconditional love,
a love that never seeks revenge,
a love that forgives and forgets our sin, completely and for all time.
Our King Jesus is able to forgive perfectly,
over and over again.
Our King prays for us,
asking God to care for us,
to fill our lives with goodness and mercy forever and ever.

We asked for God’s mercy today.
We asked for God’s forgiveness.

In ancient words, we asked:
Kyrie eleison.  Lord have mercy.
Christe eleison. Christ have mercy.
Kyrie eleison.  Lord have mercy.

And now God asks us:
Will you not have mercy on others as I have mercy on you?
Amen