The audio was capturing at our Praise and Worship service on September 14, 2014.
Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, 'Pay what you owe.' Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart."
Forgiveness from the Heart: Quality, Not Quantity
Remember those moments that Jesus calls us into - “If you brother or sister sins against you, go to that person.” Not, sweep it under a rug. Not, ignore it. But go to that person in order to reconcile the relationship. In order to restore the relationship. Jesus promises us that “where two or three are gathered” to do the the hard work of reconciling a relationship, he promises to be there with us.
We pick right after that promise from Jesus today because “the we need to talk” moment is not over when we confront the one who has sinned against us. The nurturing of the relationship does not work only through confronting the one who has sinned against us. A moment of forgiveness is what leads us into a restored and healthy relationship.
It is Peter who brings up this act to Jesus. “How many times,” he asks Jesus, “must I forgive someone who has sinned against me?” (Again, it’s important to remember that the one who has sinned is a member of the community of faith, not an outsider. The teachings in chapter 18 are about our life together as a community of faith. How do we get along? How do we take care of each and work together for healthy relationships?)
Peter thinks there is a number involved - as if after seven times the person ought to get the picture. As if after seven times the problem ought to be fixed. As if after seven times you can write someone off. But Jesus turns this number on its head and makes it ridiculous. Not just seven Peter, as many as seventy seven times - or as many as seventy times seven (490), depending on the Greek. It’s an absurd number. Hard to imagine. Jesus is making a point by exaggerating the number to an astronomical range. To drive his point home, he tells a parable.
The numbers in the parable are ridiculous, and it all has to do with money (resources). The king demonstrates power by controlling resources. As the king manipulates resources, the king regulates behavior. And the king needs to have his accounts settled, so he brings in one of his slaves. This particular slave owns him ten thousand talents. Ten thousand talents is a ridiculous amount of money - based on a calculation done using the minimum wage figure in the united states, the total debt would come out to be over two billion dollars. An absurd number.
We could take this number at face value, but there seems to be something greater than personal debt going on here. Perhaps this particular slave has been put in charge of the kings revenue accounts. This slave is in charge of collecting taxes and other payments owed to the king. And if this is the case - this slave is very bad at his job. This slave will be out of work by Friday afternoon. But the king responds in an unexpected way. The king releases the slave from the debt.
I am not sure this moment is entirely about forgiveness. The slave is still at the mercy of the king, and after releasing him from the debt, the king has a slave who is even more indebted to his power. This story is about a broken system of extracting resources and playing a numbers game.
Even after being forgiven of the debt, the slave is still beholden to the king. The work is not over. The next encounter in the parable helps us to understand that the slave is still part of the system and does not understand the forgiveness.
He runs into a fellow slave, probably one further down the pay scale, one who owes him some money. One hundred denarii to be exact. One hundreds days worth of income. In our times this would be $5,800. The difference is staggering. The one who has just been released from impossible debt reacts violently to the one who owes him a fraction of what has just been released.
The slave is caught up in a broken system - one could say that system of world economics. The wealthy king holds a great deal of power and wealth and exerts this power by manipulating money. The first slave keeps his good standing by participating in this system of extracting resources for the king. Even when his debt is released by the king, he still participates in the system of extracting resources by not mirroring the king’s release of debt.
If the parable of the king were about forgiveness, the king would have forgiven the slave a second time. But that’s not how the world works. For the king to remain in power, money must be extracted. The slave has usurped the king’s power by demonstrating that he is more ruthless at extracting resources. That’s power by the world’s standards. This is a numbers game, and to win, you have to have the most resources and be willing to do whatever it takes to get and keep them.
But this is not how the followers of Jesus are suppose to act. Forgiveness is not about controlling resources or relationships. Forgiveness is not about holding power over another person. Forgiveness is not a numbers game. A lesson that can be taken from the parable is that forgiveness is not about quantity, but about quality. It’s not about how much we forgive. Jesus dismisses this question from Peter right off the bat. The community will not be regulated by the amount of forgiveness, but by the quality of forgiveness. The community will not keep track about how many forgiveness moments take place, but the quality of those moments. And thus by the quality of relationships. Healthy relationships take work and not keeping score.
Forgiveness is not about controlling resources or relationships.
Forgiveness is not a numbers game.
The negative threat to the kingdom are those who put a stumbling in the way of the children. Today’s reminder is that stumbling blocks come in the form of broken relationships. When we do not forgive from our hearts, when the sin is allowed to take over our lives, we becomes stumbling blocks to the community.
Namely we become stumbling blocks to the Gospel. We get in our own way. The greatest single moment that negates the work of the Gospel is when members of the faith community do not forgive. We get in the way of the Gospel when we do act like Jesus has demonstrated.
Now this is not the call to be perfect, because we cannot be perfect on this side of the kingdom. Today’s reminder is that relationships take work and that we are called to take seriously the call of Jesus to forgive.
The truth is that there are consequences for not forgiving out of our heart. It is very clear when we do not forgive. We may try to present a good face to the rest of the world, but the world knows. The community knows when forgiveness is not given from the heart. When forgiveness is not genuine, not from the heart, the held grudge becomes like cancer to the community. It slowly destroys the healthy system until it is broken beyond repair. This can last generations. We know this from our own history - especially with families.
Families can hold grudges for centuries. Between individual members and between entire families. When a sin occurs that goes unforgiven, it can affect the family to the hundredth generation. I bet some of you could name family that has gone through this. When a sin goes unforgiven, it never goes away. The community, and ultimately the world will know.
Forgiveness helps us to maintain our relationships and build the foundations of a strong community of faith. Forgiveness is an expression of our willingness to participate in what God is already doing in reconciling the world. The rampage of sin can seem over overwhelming, but we can work against it, we can bring light to dark places, by working on what goes on between us - and the world will see.
Forgiveness is an expression of our willingness to participate in what God is already doing in reconciling the world.
We are called to be witnesses of God’s love and mercy. To be the light of Christ in a world that can get caught up in darkness. To demonstrate God’s forgiveness and not get caught up in the numbers game that the world fights so hard to play. It’s hard, but Christ promise to be with us - is always with us in those moments. We are a blessed people. Filled with forgiveness, so that we can forgive one another.