17th Sunday after Pentecost – A LW #’s 201, 366, 231, 216
Text – Matthew 18:34-35 TLH #’s 3, 652, 320, 52
In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back everything he owed. Jesus continues, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you, unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
Two small boys have an older brother who’s a bully, and he’s always beating up on them. One day, they’re walking home from Sunday School. The lesson had been on Peter asking Jesus how often one should forgive his brother when he has sinned against him. Christ replied not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Now as the two boys walk along they’re puzzling over how to apply that lesson to their bully of a brother. One says, “We’ll get a book, and we’ll write it down each time we forgive him.” “Yeah,” says the smaller child. “And when it gets to seventy-seven times he’d better watch out!” PAUSE
Can’t you just picture their excitement as they figure out the solution to their problem? Yeah! Then big brother will get what’s coming to him. Paybacks. Revenge is sweet, isn’t it? However, it seems that the boys missed the point of the bible lesson.
Jesus wasn’t trying to establish a minimum number of times you have to forgive someone before you can make them pay for their sins. Instead, our Savior was establishing that you must forgive someone an endless number of times.
In those days, it was Jewish tradition to stop forgiving at only the third offense. Peter probably felt he was being extremely generous by allowing as many as seven occasions. After all, if you forgive too easily, or too often, you can guarantee that people, being sinful as they are, will take advantage of you. They’ll misuse your forgiveness.
No, revenge seems the more logical option. It’s also one of the most powerful
motivators. People that otherwise will hardly lift a finger will go to all kinds of extremes in order to punish someone that’s hurt them. They may not be willing to carry the groceries to their car, but they’ll carry that grudge to their deathbed, even if the grudge itself kills them.
Revenge is a reflex. We get hurt, and we hit back. PAUSE
The parable in today’s gospel lesson illuminates that side of our nature very well. A man who owes ten thousand talents is brought before the king. That amount is the equivalent of billions of dollars in our day. It was an impossible amount to repay. It was ludicrous to even suggest it, and yet the debtor does exactly that.
He falls on his knees and begs, “Be patient with me, and I will pay back everything.” The king, no doubt realizing the foolishness of what the man is promising, takes pity on the fool, and he cancels his debt. The man should have been ecstatic. His joy should have had no boundaries. Celebration was in order.
Yet what does he do? He finds one of his fellow servants, one who owes him about $20, and he starts choking him. “Pay back what you owe me!” That man also falls to his knees, begs him to be patient, and promises to pay back what he owes. But the fool refuses to have mercy. He has the man thrown into prison until he can repay the debt.
That kind of attitude makes me sick. And that was the intent of Jesus in telling it. He wants us to see the injustice, the hypocrisy. That’s what sets up the point of the parable. Our debt before God is so great that it staggers the imagination. We can never hope to pay it off. We are guilty before God of hell and of eternal damnation.
But God has had mercy on us, for the sake of Jesus, and has wiped away our debt. Out of gratitude shouldn’t we search for opportunities to forgive those who’ve sinned against us? Even if their sin against us is great in the sight of men, it is nothing compared to the debt that we owe
our Lord, & could never hope to repay.
Consequently, any man that is unmerciful, hardhearted & unforgiving thereby denies & rejects God’s grace & mercy. The just anger of God will deliver him into a merciless judgment, from which there is no salvation, no delivery. Not only will such fools be cast out of God’s presence; they’ll be tortured as well.
In the 9th chapter of Matthew, Jesus says, “But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Jesus desires mercy from us, toward our fellow man. That means forgiveness that is complete and from the heart. Not the kind that keeps track of itself in a record book.
Our Savior is not at all concerned with how hard we work at keeping His commandments, nor with how many sacrifices we make to pay for our sins. They are all far too little to make even a dent in the debt that we owe. Our attempts are ludicrous at best.
Jesus Himself came to pay the debt of the entire world. He doesn’t need our help in accomplishing that. It’s done. He expects us not to withhold that blessing of forgiveness from the people we encounter in life, not even from those who hurt us. Jesus doesn’t want His children to pay for their sins; He wants His children to love each other.
In 1st Corinthians, Paul writes, “If I have the gift of prophecy & can fathom all mysteries & all knowledge, & if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. And the Apostle John writes, “He who does not love abides in death.”
Are you abiding in death? Are you separating yourself from fellowship with God by feeding your desire for revenge? Are you getting weary with forgiving someone for the same offenses, over and over again? Are you taking pleasure in making someone suffer, because of
what they’ve done to you? PAUSE
There’s an old fable that goes like this. A married couple forced the grandfather of the household to sit in a corner and eat his gruel out of a wooden bowl, because he spilled so much and broke so many dishes at the table. One day their young son was whittling on a block of wood. When asked what he was doing, he replied simply and directly, “I’m making a wooden bowl for you, when you get old.” PAUSE
Parables are not designed to describe things that go on in heaven. They’re constructed to tell us what goes on here, among men, while God is reestablishing Himself as our King. If you’ve ever found yourself in the shoes of the foolish and wicked servant from today’s parable, don’t despair. God is waiting for you to simply turn to Him. He’s more than willing to forgive your debt, and no debt is too large.
And though your forgiveness of someone else may seem an impossible task, remember that it’s only impossible for you alone. But as a child of your Heavenly Father you are not alone. He sent His Spirit to empower you, and to pour His love into your heart. And Jesus promised that He will be with us, even unto the end of age.
He’s with us here, in His own holy and perfect Body and Blood, through the sacrament of Holy Communion. By it He strengthens us bodily and spiritually for the warfare that we are engaged in with Satan and his cohorts. That Body and Blood forgives our sins at a very great cost to Christ. It is not something we should regard lightly.
Likewise, we should have mercy on those who offend us, for it costs us far less to forgive than it cost our Savior. He went first and paved the way for us to follow. PAUSE
There was a professor at seminary who taught counseling classes, and he liked to describe our sinful nature with this illustration. It commonly happens when he and his wife get into an argument, that his wife will say that she forgives him. But his sinful nature doesn’t want to be forgiven. It wants to be right. It wants to win the argument.
We are often the same way when it comes to forgiving others. Not only does our sinful nature want to win, it wants to destroy. That is the nature of sin and Satan and ourselves. We want to be right! We want to win and we want to destroy anything that will not bow down to us.
We want nothing less than godhood. We desire to be accountable to no one but ourselves. Forgiveness, that would be weak. PAUSE
Satan does his job quite well, doesn’t he? Yet, the Son of God has done His job even better. Satan was never ever able to conquer Him. Jesus forgave the people who nailed Him to the cross, even while He was yet hanging upon it. He didn’t have to take time to calm down, or to step back from the situation. He didn’t have to get Himself together so that He could forgive.
We don’t want to forgive too often lest we be abused. We don’t want to suffer the humility of having our forgiveness taken advantage of. Yet Christ is called upon daily to forgive you and I, to forgive the same sins over and over again. How often do we abuse His forgiveness? How often do we abuse His suffering and His death on the cross?
Jesus constantly forgives us for the same petty foolishness, stubbornness and pride. He forgives our huge, insurmountable debt and then we plot revenge, because someone inconvenienced us & wasted 10 seconds of our time. Thank the Lord that He is a merciful God, that He is a king who looks upon our foolish promises to pay back everything we owe, & out of love cancels our debt.
Thank God that in His system of paybacks, He took it out upon His only Son. The one
Lord Jesus Christ, crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, who suffered and was buried. But who on the third day rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven. It is because of Him, and only Him, that we can look forward to the resurrection from the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Come, lay your sins on Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God; He bears them all and frees us from the accursed load. Come bring your guilt to Jesus to wash your crimson stains clean in His blood most precious till not a spot remains. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet