16th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 19) LSB #’s 908, 684, 606
Text – Matthew 18:27
And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him & forgave him the debt.
When you’re invited to a party, it’s normal for the host to wonder how many guests will arrive. Hosting a wedding reception is expensive if you’re paying a caterer to handle the meal. In those circumstances, it’s common for the host to ask the guests to RSVP. Your response to the invitation reveals, to the host, something about you the guest.
In the Gospel reading, a servant of the king owes his master 10,000 talents – the equivalent of 60 million days of labor. It would take that long to work off his debt. You don’t have to be good at math to realize that it’s an impossible task.
Now, in those days, to ‘encourage’ responsible borrowing, you & your family would be sold into slavery for failure to repay a loan. That’s what the king proceeds to do, but the servant begs & pleads for mercy. Out of pity, the king relents & he completely forgives the debt.
Since no one would ever loan the equivalent of 60 million days of labor to anyone, why does Jesus construct this parable with such an impossible debt? It’s because Jesus wants us to be clear that He’s not actually talking about money. The opening verse of the Gospel reading also makes that obvious:
“Then Peter came up & said to Him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, & I forgive him? As many as seven times?’” (Matthew 18:21 ESV) You may struggle with this very issue since, like Peter, you live in a world that is filled with poor, miserable sinners. Like everyone else, even God’s children are unable to stop sinning.
And because sin is what sinners do, & keep on doing, none of us can repay the debt for our sin. Peter was trying to pin down forgiveness to a concrete number of times, yet, seven is nowhere near 60 million. He is so far out of the box that Jesus is not able to give him a simple answer. Peter was focused on the things of man while Jesus came to reveal the things of God. Sadly, that’s where our minds are often focused as well, the puny little details of our lives, details that are here today & gone tomorrow.
If you’re old enough, do you remember the important things you were doing when you first heard about the planes flying into the World Trade Center towers? I think I was working on a sermon. That went puff real fast, & completely changed the direction of the sermon.
Or, how about the recent pandemic. Prior to that we were taking a lot of our freedoms for granted. Next thing you know, a lot of them are illegal, & to top it off there’s no toilet paper to be had anywhere. All the store shelves are empty. How effortlessly we set our minds on the things of man & not on the things of God!
In the Gospel lesson, the king completely forgives the debt of his pitiful servant. He does not sell the man or his family into slavery. They’re set free. The king’s mind is on the things of God, but what about that servant? Where is his heart, mind & soul? Matthew writes:
“But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, & seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down & pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, & I will pay you.’ He refused & went & put him in prison until he should pay the debt.” (18:28-30 ESV)
The servant who was set free has his mind firmly & blindly set upon the things of man. Upon what is your heart, mind & soul set this morning? How have you, how are you, how will you respond to the invitation of your heavenly Father? That is what this Gospel reading is about. How you respond to God’s invitation reveals to Him something about you the guest.
You see, the sermon text is not simply a piece of information that moves Jesus’ parable
toward its conclusion. “And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him & forgave him the debt.” Those words are also an invitation. The king invites the servant out of the prison of man’s thoughts & into his kingdom of God’s thoughts. The king invites his former servant into the kingdom of grace & mercy & forgiveness. And to that Jesus also invites you!
What has your response to God’s forgiveness, & to your heavenly King’s invitation, told Him about you? No doubt your response, like mine, has made clear the need for daily forgiveness of a debt that is impossible to repay. If our heavenly Father stopped forgiving at seven times, who of us would have any hope of eternal life?
However, as we accept God’s invitation, there are consequences. For one, the Holy Spirit enters us & we are then expected to live like members of God’s kingdom. If someone hurts us, we are expected to share with them the mercy & forgiveness we have received. However, our old sinful nature will fight that because of another consequence of being in God’s kingdom.
When we accept our heavenly Father’s invitation the Devil becomes our enemy & he will wage war against us as long as we remain in God’s kingdom. That battle, & our ongoing need to be forgiven, keep life complicated here on earth. In many ways that struggle is a blessing, but it sure isn’t easy. We constantly need God’s strength along with His mercy.
Followers of Jesus in every age & place have had to fight their inborn tendency to think like fallen human beings. Confused by the culture around them & the sin within, Christians need continual return to the words of Jesus for correction & for reorientation. His Word comforts us, & teaches us about the way of life in His Father’s kingdom.
Jesus continually invites us to receive His body & blood at Holy Communion. This strengthens our faith in Him & unites us to Christ, & to each other, in ways that surpass all human understanding. Since Jesus shed His blood for our sins, this is one means by which we directly & personally receive that forgiveness. At Holy Communion, God completely erases the debt that we owe Him & sets us free from the prison of our sins. Satan hates this & constantly works to confuse people by telling us we have a ‘right’ to be at the Lord’s table. Yet, because we can never pay the price to make it our right, our heavenly Father freely invites us.
And before we can even begin to discern our need to be forgiven, God’s Spirit will enter us through the waters of Holy Baptism. Here also, the almighty God invites us into His kingdom of eternal life. Before we can begin to fathom the distinctions between His grace & mercy, our Lord showers them upon us because it is only His love that is able to change us for the better.
The wicked servant who was forgiven an enormous debt, refused to forgive his fellow servant. He never allowed the king’s grace & mercy to change his heart. Though this wicked servant was invited into the eternal kingdom, his RSVP was a very definite “No!” Though he was willing to accept forgiveness, he refused to share it with those who owed him a debt.
In God’s kingdom, the most important fellow disciple is the one who has sinned & needs my forgiveness to release him from the devil’s hold & from the punishment that he deserves. Because that is impossible for us to do on our own, God’s Word, Holy Communion & Holy Baptism are the means by which Jesus gives us His Spirit so we are able to forgive.
We see that Spirit at work in Joseph as he explains to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20 ESV)
Forgiveness is a Spirit led choice, an act of the saintly nature. Emotions may follow in agreement or they might need to be dragged along, kicking & screaming. Remember, Satan is at war against us & against God’s kingdom. Living in God’s kingdom is not a walk in the park. We seldom do, instantaneously, what is good, right & salutary. That’s why our heavenly Father is patient & merciful with us. In so doing He is taking the risk that we will refuse His invitation, but that is the price that God’s love for us is willing to pay. We see that most clearly as Jesus hung on the cross for our sins. God invites us to participate in the reign of heaven already here on earth. Jesus came to begin that new age, & He did so at His resurrection from the dead.
Even in that new age, forgiveness is hard, especially when we have been deeply hurt & badly wounded, but those wounds should drive us back even more to our gracious & forgiving Father. Our response to our Lord’s invitation should always be a definite “Yes!” Not because we are worthy, but because Jesus was, & is, & always will be worthy in our place.
Jesus reigns over this earth & over heaven in mercy. That’s how He rules, quite unlike any earthly king or president. God’s mercy & forgiveness, which is our only hope, is unconditional & absolute. To accept His invitation is not merely to attend an event, but to live an entirely new & eternal existence.
If you struggle to forgive, know that Christ longs to help you, strengthen you & comfort you, so that you too may be set free. Amen.
“Come unto Me, ye weary, & I will give you rest.” O blessed voice of Jesus, which comes to hearts oppressed! It tells of benediction, of pardon, grace & peace, of joy that hath no ending, of love that cannot cease. “And whosoever cometh, I will not cast him out.” O patient love of Jesus, which drives away our doubt, which, though we be unworthy of love so great & free, invites us very sinners to come, dear Lord, to Thee! Amen. LSB 684:1, 4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet