When Jesus Tells A Parable Get Read To Be …
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost Trinity Lutheran Church
14 September 2014 Murdock, NE
+ Jesu Juva +
Peter’s quite gracious. Kind. Somewhat better at this forgiveness business than you. You are incredibly nervous about and allergic to forgiving people that sin against you. Forgive them and they’ll take advantage of you. Forgive them and you think that you lose power over them. So, you’re experts at grudge holding and score keeping. You’ve become major leaguers when it comes to withholding forgiveness. I know because I’m one of those grudge holding scorekeeping unforgivers too. There are people in your lives and in the church that you love to hate. That you genuinely take pleasure in not forgiving. And you don’t lose a bit of sleep over it – ever!
Peter, however, goes above and beyond the call of duty. He’s willing to forgive a brother – up to a point. Even up to seven times! But after that Peter draws the line. No more forgiveness after that. Forgiveness for people runs out after a certain amount of sinning. Right Lord? And you’re sympathetic with Peter’s way of dealing with sinners, aren’t you? Of course you are.
That’s when Jesus opens His mouth to preach. And when Jesus preaches on this topic, you’d better get ready to get blown away! Big time! Seriously! Especially if you’re a habitual unforgiver or addicted to the heroine-like “high” of unforgiveness.
“Forgive,” Jesus says, not just “seven times,” but “SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN.” In other words, when someone sins against you, forgive him, every time, no matter how often. No limit to forgiveness. Don’t be a party pooper unforgiver – ever!
And to clinch His point with Peter and with you Jesus tells a story. A parable. Of how it goes with the mercy of kingdom of heaven, that is to say, how Jesus lords His Good Friday dying over sinners.
The story goes like this. A king wants to settle accounts. Balance and close the books. Lo and behold there is a high security-level-JP-Morgan-Chase-Bank-of-America-like servant that owes his Majesty 10,000 talents. One talent in Jesus’ day was 6,000 denarii. One denarius was a day’s fair wage. So 10,000 talents = 60,000 denarii or 60,000 working day’s wages And this guy owes 10,000 talents! We’re talking millions upon millions of dollars in today’s money! An impossibly repayable debt! Federal government debt kind of money!
The servant falls down on his knees and audaciously begs for time. Time to put off the last judgment! To stall the final hammer blow and the eternal prison! “Be patient with me Master and I’ll pay you back.” Yeah, right! Not possible! What an idiot!
What would you do with such a servant? You’d show no mercy. You’d do your best to cut your losses and get what you could. Liquidate all the loser’s assets and sell him, his wife and all his children into slavery. Just to recoup a little of the debt.
But is that what the king does? Nope. He’s not like you. He does the absolute unthinkable! The unfathomable! The most reckless! Irresponsible! He goes against all sound fiscal principles and business rules. He pulls a kingdom of heaven thing! What’s that? Wait for it …!
He … has … “compassion” on the deadbeat debtor! “Releases him and FORGIVES HIM THE ENTIRE DEBT. THE WHOLE ENCHILADA of it!” His Highness tears up the note. With black ink and in all caps His Majesty writes in the royal books: “PAID IN FULL.” He dies to any and every kind of royal accounting and score keeping! All is forgiven. The servant is a free man! Given a new life! Life from the dead! Salvation!
Forgiven and Free, let’s call him, hasn’t even rubbed off the dust from his knees when he hunts down his friend Buddy on the street. Buddy owes Forgiven and Free 100 denarii. That’s pocket change. Gumball machine change. Not even Ameristar slot machine kind of money. A pittance. A trifle.
No doubt Forgiven and Free tracks down Buddy to graciously forgive Buddy as has been forgiven? That’s what you’d think. But you’re wrong. Dead wrong! Forgiven and Free goes to settle the score like a Tony Soprano. As if he’s never been forgiven anything and that the king is a greedy tyrant. He grabs Buddy by the throat and demands the loose change immediately. “Pay back what you owe me!” As if he could begin to pay the king back like he said. Buddy’s plea for patience and the promise to pay Forgiven and Free back fall on deaf ears. Forgiven and Free has Buddy thrown into prison until the debt is paid in full. No mercy. No forgiveness.
His Majesty the king gets wind of this unfortunate turn of events. He’s absolutely befuddled and outraged at Forgiven and Free. Calls him in. “You evil servant! I forgave you everything because you begged me to and now look at you. I don’t know who you are! You’re an out and out … unforgiver! A wretched piece of unforgiving trash! If that’s what you’re going to do with my amazing grace, then you can go to …” And the king does just that. Straight away he sends Free and Forgiven to debtor’s prison until he pays off all the debt. (By the way folks, that’s precisely what hell is like. It’s where unforgivers get to pay off their own debt forever and ever.)
But Jesus isn’t done. He throws the payoff pitch. And it’s this: “So also my heavenly Father will to do to every one of you unforgivers, if you do not forgive your brother from the heart.”
Whoa! Did Jesus just say that? Yes, He did. Bluntly. Frankly. Truly. To convict you chronic unforgivers. To kill and crush your hardened unforgiving hearts. To repent you. To turn you from your unforgiveness. So that His Good Friday forgiveness FOR YOU would flow into you and then through you to those people in your life that have sinned against you. Jesus would save you today from your deadly and hellacious addiction to unforgiveness!
After all, who really gets hurt in unforgiveness? Newsflash! IT’S YOU who decline to forgive! You’re only harming yourself when you will not forgive. Unforgiveness is the most deadly spiritual cancer that eats away at your bones, your family, your congregation and your community.
Unforgiveness demeans you. It robs you of vitality and joy. It diminishes you. It makes you small and it makes Jesus even smaller. Marriages go down the tubes when husbands and wives won’t forgive each other daily. Families break apart at the seams when parents and kids do not forgive each other. Our congregation is hurt immensely when we are at each other’s throats, hold secret grudges for years against each other and forget to live by God’s mercy for us all in Jesus Christ.
Unforgiveness is a hardening of the heart. It is a mega clog in the artery of faith. The backpressure is deadly and destructive. When you refuse to forgive, you put yourself in opposition to God and destroy your own desire to be forgiven. I’ve noticed this as a pastor over the years: people that harbor hard core grudges rarely, if ever, are found on their knees confessing their sin to God. Score settlers and bookkeepers of every wrong, rarely, if ever, recognize the score God settled when He hung His Son Jesus graveyard dead on the cross to pay the ultimate price for their sinfulness. Those that refuse to be reconciled with others usually refuse to be reconciled with God.
Unforgiveness is a form of slavery. It restricts the freedom Jesus has won for you. When you do not forgive those that sin against you, you give them control over your emotions, your decisions and your actions. They run your life. They become your lords that you serve with your grudges, hostility and hatred.
The word “forgive,” means to set free, to cut loose, or to dismiss. When something is forgiven it no long has power. When a debt is forgiven, it no longer has any claim over your money. When sin is forgiven, it loses its power to condemn. When you refuse to forgive others, you chain yourself to them by the power of their sin in a perverse and destructive bond that ties up your freedom as the free and forgiven children of God.
To forgive your brother “from the heart” as Jesus declares is an act of the will. Forgiveness is not a feeling. The essence of forgiveness is not how you feel but what you say, namely, in the words, “I forgive you.” Your actions will be shaped by those words. Forgiveness means that you do not return evil for evil, anger for anger, sin for sin. You don’t do to others what they have done to you. When God forgives you, He does not act on your sin. He doesn’t damn you as your sin deserves because He has damned your sin (all of it) in the Good Friday dead body of His Son Jesus on the cross.
I want to make another point. It’s this: to forgive does not mean to forget. The king did not forget for one moment the debt he forgave. Absolution is not amnesia! God does not forget the sins He forgives. Instead, He refuses to act on them because He remembers that He has already acted on them – done them to death in the Good Friday death of Jesus. God doesn’t get even with you because Jesus evened you up with God by offering His perfect life in your place.
So also you don’t necessarily forget what you forgive. How can a person forget adultery, murder, or some other kind of violence even the Ray Rice kind? How could Joseph ever forget what his brothers did to him? It means that you don’t act on it or try to get even. The authorities will act on it in order to prosecute and punish such sin “for your good” and society’s good as we learned last week from Romans 13. But you won’t act on it. That’s what it means to “forgive from the heart.”
Well, I’ve got to finish this sermon with a flurry. My goodness, the sermons have sure been longer lately. I hope you don’t mind. So here goes.
The parable Jesus told you today was never intended to make you feel good about yourself. Jesus meant to knock you off the high horse of your self-righteousness so that He can put you on the humble donkey of His crucified righteousness. No one but Jesus is able forgive in the perfect “seventy times seven” way that He demands. Whatever you do, it will never be enough. Whether three times, seven times or even 489 times, you will never achieve that perfect “seventy times seven.”
Only Jesus forgives that way. He forgave His own people that plotted against Him in order to kill Him. He forgave the soldiers that beat Him to a pulp and spat on Him, that pulled His beard and flogged Him. He absolved those who crucified Him: “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.”
He forgives you too. You, that have sinned against Him. It’s true. You are forgiven. And with His forgiveness there is always more. Like a flood. It just keeps coming and coming. You’ll hear it and be given His forgiveness again today at the Lord’s Supper. His promise is: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
In the strength of such divine, unlimited and perfect forgiveness, He sends you as His instruments of forgiveness. Conduits of His undeserved kindness to sinners in your life. To let His forgiveness flow as freely as you have been forgiven.
Happy being forgiven. Using Jesus properly for the forgiveness of all your sin. And happy forgiving those that sin against you.
In the Name of Jesus.