Day 17 (Monday) - Matthew 18:21-35

Artwork by George Courage

Artwork by George Courage

Yesterday, Pastor Matt shared an amazing sermon on forgiveness.  Jesus talked a lot about forgiveness too.  And then his disciples did.  And our preachers today do too.  Preachers like Pastor Matt.  But even though we hear about it all the time, sometimes it's still a hard thing for us to grasp.  And so today, we're going to talk again about forgiveness by reading a story that Jesus told about what it looks like.

Here goes.

Once upon a time, in a land far far away, there was a mighty king.  He’d been a generous king too. He was in the habit of lending out his money to servants who needed it, and one day, as he’s balancing his checkbook, he decides it’s time to settle accounts.

He keeps a count, like ya do, checking their debts off, one by one.

 

This servant’s paid me back.  Check.

That servant’s done. Check.

Score's even with that guy.  Check.

And then he approaches a servant who has accrued a massive amount of debt...ten thousand talents.  Whewee.  Sounds like a lot, right?  But ten thousand talents is a whole lot more than a lot.  In that day, one Greek Talent was the equivalent of 6,000 working day’s wages.  So ten thousand talents was the equivalent of 60 million working days’ wages....which is about 200,000 years’ worth of work.

Can you imagine? 

This means that if he’d kept working to our day, he’d be about one one hundredth of a thousandth of the way done with paying back what he owed.  This man owes unimaginable, unbelievable, impossible-to-pay-back debt. 

The servant pleads, “Give me time!  I’ll pay you back!”

There would have been no way he ever could.  

But the mighty king - the king, who has loaned out billions of dollars, remember - feels compassion for his servant.  He takes the hit and forgives the debt in full.

That’s it.  You're done.  You don’t owe me anymore.  Check. 

I can only imagine the kind of freedom the servant would have felt in that moment.

But it wasn’t enough for him to feel free, because the servant goes out and finds a fellow servant who owes him a much smaller debt and demands payment.  When the fellow servant can’t pay, he throws him in prison. 

The servant wasn’t able to forgive an infinitely smaller debt, because he’d never accepted that he’d been forgiven of his own debt.  He never received the forgiveness; he simply asked for patience so he could repay, and because he could not receive the gift, he's thrown into prison where his heart already is.

What the servant couldn't accept into his own heart is offered to us in abundance: no matter who we are, no matter what we've done, no matter how much we owe, we have a King who forgives.  And if we want to be people who really know how to forgive, we have to know how to receive forgiveness first.  We have to know what forgiveness means, what it feels like.  We have to acknowledge that the King has forgiven us, that he has taken all of our sin, all of our debt, all of our years of trying to pay it back, and he's pinned it to the cross, saying "Father forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing."

If we want to be people who act out of compassion and forgiveness instead of bitterness and anger, who no longer have to look over our shoulders or nurse our grudges or get payback, first we have to breathe this in, the compassion and forgiveness of God.  We have to acknowledge that we have been part of the problems of the world, that we have hurt others, and then we have to receive the news that even though there are consequences, even though we have rebuilding to do in our world and in our relationships, we don’t ultimately have to pay the debt for it.  

Christ himself has taken the hit and he says that we don’t owe him anymore.  Check.

In Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning tells a story about a Catholic woman who was having visions of Jesus.  Reports reached the archbishop who decided to check it out, so he stopped by her house and said, “I hear you’ve been having visions of Jesus," to which the woman replied, “Yes, I have.”

But the archbishop wanted proof, so he told her that the next time she had a vision of Jesus, she should ask Jesus what sins he confessed in his last confessional.

Ten days later, the archbishop got a call from the woman who said she’d had another vision of Jesus.  When he arrived at her house, he said, “So?  Did you remember?  Did you ask Jesus what sins I confessed in my last confession?” 

And she said, “Yes.” And she took his hand in hers and she looked him directly in the eye, and said,

“Jesus’ exact words were, ‘I can’t remember.’”

I can’t remember.

We have a King who forgives.

It is not always easy for us to do the same, but it is what we are called to do.  A pastor named Tim Keller put it this way: 

“There is another option, however. You can forgive. Forgiveness means refusing to make them pay for what they did. However, to refrain from lashing out at someone when you want to do so with all your being is agony. It is a form of suffering. You are absorbing the debt, taking the cost of it completely on yourself instead of taking it out on the other person. It hurts terribly.  Many people would say it feels like a kind of death. Yes, but it’s a death that leads to resurrection instead of the life-long living death of bitterness and cynicism.”

Because when we can start to understand this kind of love and forgiveness in our own lives, the kind that God gave to us when lashing out would have been justified, when punishment would have been justified, when anger would have been justified, then we start to see others as God sees them, through the love and grace and compassion that God has shown us.

So in those moments when you are tempted to lash out in your anger, in the moments when you are tempted to punish and pay them back, instead...instead receive deeply God’s kindness and compassion and forgiveness towards you and let that guide you.  In those moments when you cannot extend compassion in your own strength, extend it in his.  In those moments when you cannot forgive in your own strength, forgive in his.  

Because the King has forgiven you.  Check.

Pastor Brynn Harrington

Consider: 

Who do you need to forgive? Who might have something against you that you need to reach out to and offer an apology?  Have you ever been forgiven by another person?  What did that feel like?  What does it mean to you that you are forgiven by God?  Is God's forgiveness ever hard for you to accept or understand?  

Pray:

Lord Jesus, you who suffered and died, you who shed your own blood for me, grant me now your pardon. °Have mercy on me and renew me. Give me the compassion of heart to extend forgiveness to those who have wronged me. Take now my hurts, my wounds, my longing for retribution. I release them all to you. Trusting that you are the one who is both just and the justifier of all. Amen.

Embody:

Write down on a piece of paper a wound you are carrying -- a sin that was committed against you, whether intentionally or not. Look at it. Feel the weight of the hurt. Feel the urge for justice. Notice your muscles tensing. Your stomach churning. Now, offer these feelings to Jesus and then either rip up the paper or burn it (burning is my favorite.)  And remember Paul’s words to the Colossians, “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.”

Pastor Aaron Engler 


Endnotes: 

  1. Lk. 23:34.
  2. Keller, Tim, Reason for God.