“Forgiveness,” C.S.Lewis once observed, “is a beautiful word, until you have something to forgive.”
I was checking out of a hotel yesterday . . . Beside me was a woman with her 2 little daughters, ages 6 and 4, maybe. They were tussling over a little 12”x6” mirror imbedded in the podium. Push. Glimpse. Push back. Peek. Shove. Glance. And shove returned. Peep. Sounds of mounting frustration & and indignation. Then the inevitable: the youngest took a tumble. Tears. Mother scoops her up, comforts, & says to the elder, “you need to tell your sister you are sorry.” And . . . ? “Soorrryyy.”
Just the evening before, in the same lobby, I had watched a similar tearful & indignant scene play out between a teenage boy, his sister, & their mother . . .
TODAY’S PARABLE IS A STORY OF MERCY AND FORGIVENESS . . .
Told in a dramatic, disturbing, shock-value fashion to Peter and all followers of Jesus.
First there is the Debt – huge, beyond imaginable debt.
10,000 talents would take around 160,000 years to repay!
Then there is the phenomenal & unexpected Mercy – debt completely forgiven!
Next the unbelievable & shocking Behavior of the forgiven one
– No Mercy whatsoever – even as he hears his own plea for Mercy on the lips of his co-laborer.
Followed by the final Judgment of the King, who remembers, reminds,
& remands the ungrateful and unmerciful one to prison.
Then the punch line:
“So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
HOW DOES THIS APPLY TO US?
Message: “We are debtors to God’s mercy and according to Jesus we are obliged to show mercy.”
—John Indermark, Parables and Passion
Let’s Unpack that.
First – God’s Mind-Blowing Mercy.
God’s mercy and forgiveness, poured out on us in the passion of Jesus, is a debt that none of us can ever repay.
– Nor does God require that we do so. Thank God for that!
In Jesus: YOU are Forgiven! Thank God!!! You Receive Mercy & Grace Beyond Measure! – Rejoice!!!
My chains are gone, I’ve been set free; My God, my Savior has ransomed me!
And like a flood, his mercy reigns, unending love, amazing grace.
To this, Jesus’ Story Adds an Essential Truth in the form of a question (v33)
“Is it not necessary for you also to show mercy to your fellow servant
as I have shown mercy to you?” – Matthew 18:33 You’ve Heard it said:
n“Be merciful, as your Father in heaven is merciful” – Luke 6:36
n“Forgive as you have been forgiven.” – Eph.4:32, Col.3:1
There is a Necessary connection between Mercy received & Mercy given;
A direct link between Forgiveness received and Forgiveness offered.
Gratitude is an incomplete response;
Mirroring God’s Mercy is “Proof” (“fruit” of hearing) Of Mercy/Forgiveness received.
A Cautionary – & True – Story. A friend wrote the following blog just this week:
I remember sitting at the kitchen table, pen touching paper. I had been urged, by a Christian family friend to write a letter to my father, a person who weeks prior had walked out on our family after it was revealed he had an affair. It was my Christian duty to forgive, as Christ forgave me on the cross, the ultimate payment for my sins. This letter was a manifestation of being “quick to forgive, and slow to anger,” it was the first of 490 (70×7) times I was to forgive my father (Matthew 18:22). I was 11 years old.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized this was the first time the Bible was used as a tool for abuse in my life. Asking an 11 yr old to forgive a man who had weeks prior single handedly taken my childhood from me, & had thrown my family into turmoil was ridiculous, and not biblical. It was ridiculous because I was still trying to recover from seeing my own mother have a nervous breakdown on our living room floor just days before. It was ridiculous because in that moment I was trying to process the thought that I needed to be a father to my two younger brothers. It was ridiculous because I was hearing my father punching doors and screaming at my mother on the day they first confronted each other . . . It was ridiculous because forgiving my father let him off the hook for all of this. It was ridiculous because the forgiveness implied I needed to let go of all the feelings of anger, fear, and betrayal he had caused.
This is a very different picture than that I presented at the start. And my friend’s caution is this: There are as many as five different modes of forgiveness in scripture (see http://jamesnewtonpoling.com/writing/sermons/sermon-on-forgiveness/ ), and to pull out one as the standard for all cases sets up people for spiritual woundedness, pain, & separation from God. The Church needs to stop rushing wounded people into forgiveness of those who have harmed them. The Church needs to come alongside those who have been wounded, to help them with healing, and discover if forgiveness is possible, wanted, or beneficial in the healing process. And I would add:
Is not this “coming alongside” my friend describes “showing mercy?”
“Forgiveness is a beautiful word, until you have something to forgive.”
It is here that I find Hope and Help in a Strange Place – The warning of v35:
There Jesus says His Followers must Forgive one another “from the heart.”
The Forgiveness God Calls us to is Not a New Legalism.
It isn’t a forced “sorry” or a guilt-motivated coercion;
It isn’t a matter of “trying harder” or “getting over” or “forgetting.”
It is a matter of the heart – & as such, is beyond human effort alone
That is to say, it is a God Happening; a Journey Shared;
A work of the Spirit in a willing heart that can at least squeak out:
Take O take me as I am, summon out what I shall be;
Set your seal upon my heart and live in me.
HOW WILL WE RESPOND?
Notice: The Context of this Parable is The Church
All of Mt. 18 is focused on relationships between the sisters & bros
– Opens with “Who is the greatest?” (That question always ends well…)
– Speaks of causing others to sin, & of folks wandering off.
– Addresses what to do with brothers & sisters who sin against us.
– And then there is Peter asking “How many times must I forgive
a church member who keeps wounding me? Seven times???”
(It is Interesting that it is Peter doing the asking …)
Here’s The Point:
The Church is the Primary Learning Context for Mercy & Forgiveness
This, Right Here, is the God-Given Space for Practicing Mercy toward Others
Check out the Photo (printed below) another friend shared this past week:
“Our Get Along Shirt.” This, I offer, is a picture of the church.
We are in this together by God’s design.
(Truth telling: You really cannot follow Jesus/walk God’s Way alone)
Too often our response to this parable is to go out there & “go big;”
To take on our deepest wound and vow to forgive large. And . . . ?
Like an 11 yr old being told to write a letter he is not yet equipped to write,
when our efforts fall short, we often feel guilty, defeated, angry, & lost
But, listen, there are plenty of opportunities to practice forgiveness right here — Close in & local.
Being with people on the Way involves everyday offenses.
“How many times must I forgive, Lord? Seven???”
I know it can feel “big,” & sometimes is, but most of this stuff is a lot like
two small sisters vying for control over the mirror.
nIt is all about Skill Development thru Practice. The Church is God’s
“Get Along Shirt;” AND it is Proof that Our Merciful & Forgiving God
Takes us as we are and Loves us too much to let us stay that way.
As we Learn to Practice Mercy & Forgiveness toward each other,
Under the guidance and transforming power of the Spirit,
The ability to address the big stuff grows.
But if you can’t do it here, among the followers of Jesus,
chances are, you won’t do it anywhere.
And God loves you too much to say “that’s ok.”
Jesus taught us: “By this all will know you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.” – Jn.13:35
And Paul described the practice of love in the church like this:
“Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another,
just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” — Eph.4:32
We Are, Indeed, Beneficiaries of God’s Mercy – Thank God!
And, According To Jesus, We Are Obliged To Show Mercy to Others.
This Is Serious Business and a Necessary Practice
– And, by God’s Spirit, it Starts Right Here And Right Now.
May it be so. Amen.