“Living by Forgiveness” (Matthew 18:21-35)

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 13, 2020

“Living by Forgiveness” (Matthew 18:21-35)

Living by forgiveness: That’s the message God has for each one of us here today. Living by forgiveness is the way life goes in God’s kingdom. There’s no other way. You and I live on the basis of God forgiving us when we have sinned against him. And you and I are called to live the same way toward our brothers and sisters who sin against us. We receive forgiveness from God, and we extend forgiveness toward others. That’s “Living by Forgiveness.”

Jesus tells Peter and us about this way of life in the Holy Gospel for today, from Matthew 18. That’s the same Matthew 18 where Jesus teaches about the brother who sins against you and how you are to seek to win the brother back. Well, Peter has heard this teaching from Jesus about forgiveness and restoration, and so now he asks his master: “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

It seems that Peter can take this idea of forgiving someone who sins against you, but only up to a certain point: “One time, sure. Two or three times, OK, I can go along with that. But more than that–well, it gets a little dicey. How long am I supposed to keep forgiving the jerk?” So Peter picks a number that he thinks sounds very generous and magnanimous: “As many as seven times?” “That would be going the extra mile, wouldn’t it, Master? Look how big-hearted I am, willing to forgive someone that many times!” Peter is willing to show forgiveness seven times over. “Surely that will be enough, Master, won’t it? As many as seven times? And then I can start getting back at the guy, can’t I? That’s reasonable, isn’t it? After all, there’s a limit to a man’s patience.”

“Well, Peter, let me give you a lesson on the New Math in God’s kingdom,” Jesus proceeds to tell him. “You say seven times? I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” Whoa! That’s a lot! Let’s do the math. 70 x 7. . . . 0 . . . 49 . . . Man, that’s 490 times! I’m supposed to forgive someone who sins against me 490 times? How am I supposed to keep track of that?”

Well, that’s the point. You’re not supposed to keep track of that. No scorekeeping. If you try to play the scorekeeping game, imagine how that will work if God kept score on you, how much you sin against him. It wouldn’t be pretty, I tell you.

So Jesus tells Peter a story to get the point across. It goes like this: There’s this servant who owes his master a vast sum of money: Ten thousand talents, which is roughly equivalent to, oh, say, five bazillion dollars. In other words, an utterly unpayable amount. You couldn’t live enough lifetimes to pay off that debt. And the master is about to drop the hammer on the guy, to throw the servant and his whole family into debtors’ prison. But the servant goes up to the master and begs him for mercy. “Give me just a little more time, and I’ll pay you back, sir.” Of course, there’s no way the guy could pay back such a huge amount, no matter how long he had. But anyway, the master does have mercy on him and forgives him the entire amount.

Jesus here is illustrating how God deals with us. You and I owe God an insurmountable amount of debt. Our sins against God are piled up high to the sky. We have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, by all the wrong things we have done and by all the good things we have failed to do. We daily sin much and deserve nothing from God except his temporal and eternal punishment. And there’s nothing we can do to make up for it, to pay off all that huge debt that we owe. Think about it. Evaluate your life against the standard of the Ten Commandments and you’ll see that you come up way short. All my thoughts? All my words? All my deeds? Sins of commission? Sins of omission? If I try to add up all my sins of all my life in terms of debt, I think my balance would come out somewhere around five bazillion in the hole.

But God has forgiven my debt, the whole amount and even more. That’s why Jesus came, to pay off what I couldn’t pay. God’s own Son came down from heaven and took on the whole burden of our sins. And the price he paid to cancel our debt was not any amount of gold or silver but something infinitely more valuable: Christ redeemed us with his holy precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. Jesus cried out on the cross: “Tetelestai! It is finished! The debt is paid in full!” Now you and I can say in response: “I’m debt-free! Jesus has paid it all! Thank you, Lord! I am living by forgiveness!”

But rather than stay in the forgiveness lane, the guy in the story takes a different route. He wants to live in the payback lane. “If somebody owes me anything, I’m gonna get what’s coming to me!” So he goes out and finds a fellow servant who owes him a hundred denarii, which is not a totally insignificant amount, like owing somebody $1.57, but in comparison to owing ten thousand talents, a hundred denarii would seem rather small. Even so, even though he himself had just been forgiven a huge amount, purely out of the master’s mercy, this servant has no mercy on the fellow who owed him money: “And seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’” His fellow servant pleads with him, using the same words he had pleaded with the master: “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But to no avail. The unmerciful servant has the poor man thrown in jail.

So which is it going to be? The way of mercy and forgiveness? Or the way of payback and scorekeeping? If you want to be like the unmerciful servant, know this: He who lives by scorekeeping will die by scorekeeping. If you’re going to insist on keeping score with others, don’t be surprised when it turns out badly for you with God. You have not grasped the way of God’s kingdom. It’s living by forgiveness. There’s no other way. God forgives you the whole unpayable amount you owe him. Now you go and forgive your brother. And don’t keep track. No scorekeeping. It’s not like “489, forgive. 490, forgive. 491, OK, now I get to take revenge!” Nope, that’s not how it goes. We’re living by forgiving here in God’s kingdom.

How is it for you, brothers and sisters? Is there somebody you’re holding a grudge against? Let it go. Forgive the person from your heart. Don’t store it up for ammunition later. Yes, that person may have hurt you. Sin hurts. It’s a real thing. It’s not nothing. But realize that you yourself are living from forgiveness. So how can you withhold forgiveness from your brother or sister? It just doesn’t work that way.

And your forgiveness does not depend on whether or not that other person is repentant. You forgive anyway. Personal grudges, personal animosity, is not how life goes among us. Take the initiative to forgive. Don’t hold the sin against the person. Unforgiveness will lead to bitterness, and that bitterness will only consume you. It won’t do anything to the brother or sister, but it will consume you. You’ll lie in bed at night and stew in your juices. Having gone through a divorce, I can tell you that forgiveness is the way to go. It’s not saying that what the other person did to you was no big deal. No, it hurt. But it does no good to hold on to the hurt and to go the way of anger and unforgiveness. That doesn’t help anybody. Let it go. God has forgiven that person because of the blood of Christ. How can you not?

Think of the story of Joseph. Think of what his brothers had done to him. Out of pure jealousy, they had thrown young Joseph into a pit and sold him into slavery. Joseph gets taken down to Egypt and has to work in Potiphar’s house. Mrs. Potiphar sexually harasses Joseph, and when Joseph declines, she lies about him and gets Joseph thrown into prison. There Joseph does well and helps a fellow prisoner out, but then that released prisoner forgets about him, and Joseph has to spend a couple more years in the prison. But finally, Joseph has the opportunity to help Pharaoh, and Pharaoh elevates Joseph to a position of great responsibility. Joseph uses that position to save a lot of lives in the midst of a crisis. He even helps his own brothers who had done him dirt. Joseph forgives them, fully. He’s not holding any grudges. That’s an example of how forgiveness works.

Our God is a God who forgives. As we heard in Psalm 103: “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, when we realize how much God has forgiven us, then we will understand that forgiveness is the way that this whole thing goes. This is how God’s kingdom operates. If we live by forgiveness, then we will practice forgiveness. We live, we have life, because of the overwhelming, abundant, immeasurable forgiveness God shows toward us in Christ. We live now, and we will live eternally, on the basis of God’s forgiveness. Five bazillion dollars? Jesus says, “Paid in full! I’ve got it covered.” So now, when we think of someone who has hurt us–oh, maybe $1.57 worth in comparison–we are ready to show the same kind of forgiveness toward that person. No scorekeeping. Because that’s how we roll in God’s kingdom: Living by forgiveness.

Published in: on September 12, 2020 at 2:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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