A link to our live-stream service (via our YouTube Channel) is below, along with the text of Interim Pastor David Mueller’s sermon. For more information on this new online option, please read the guide provided by John Lasher, director of music and worship arts.
“Justice Deserved” (Matthew 18:21-35)
Interim Pastor David E. Mueller
You are getting a double dose of the Joseph story in that I referred to it last Sunday and here it is as the Hebrew lesson for today. It is an incredibly beautiful story about why forgiveness is far better than bitterness.
By typical human standards, Joseph had every right and reason to come down hard on his brothers. This was the equivalent of human trafficking today. It must have been pure agony and loneliness for years for Joseph to have been ripped out of his family and by his own brothers to boot. On a practical level, however, now that they all had been re-united in Egypt for 17 years, not knowing that their progeny would be there for over 400 more years, it made sense to get along and not be estranged.
By contrast, in the Gospel we are confronted with one of the worst cases of utterly base violations of the “Golden Rule” anywhere in the Christian Scriptures.
Right away, I want to emphasize that this parable is first and foremost about God’s forgiving grace and mercy. This can easily be lost in what must be ravenous rage in most of us about the awful turn of events and treatment of the second debtor by the first. Keep thinking thankfully about how gracious and merciful God is. Refuse to get lost in the inhumanity and ungratefulness of the first servant.
Lord God of Heaven and Earth, we rejoice in You and Your promises made to us. Help us never to be guilty of abusing You and Your grace and mercy and Your eternal love of us, shown especially in Jesus Christ, Your Son and our Savior. Amen.
This begins with the disciple we can count on as being mildly cantankerous in his questioning and commenting on the words of Jesus. OK, Jesus, you shared about going personally to someone who has offended us — that is, keeping the matter contained and only later bringing in others if necessary. So then, how often do we need to do this forgiveness thing? We need to give Peter a little credit here because he probably knew full well how hard forgiving others really is.
The answer that Jesus gives here may as well be “Infinitely!” In former translations, we heard 70 times 7. Now it is 77 times. In either instance, it is “don’t ever stop forgiving.” The number 7 in Biblical numerology always means complete. Forgiveness is never one and done.
There is more math herein. Scottish preacher William Barclay, in his “Handbook of Parables of Jesus” published in 1970, concludes that 10,000 talents is at least 10 times as much as the taxes paid by the total number of provinces in Judea. In 1970, it would have been 2.4 million British pounds or nearly 4 million U.S. dollars. Many of us might recall back then and now realize how much inflation there has been since 1970. The point is that it was utterly impossible to be paid back. One cannot help but wonder how on earth the steward could have accumulated such debt. Talk about things sneaking up on you.
The debt the steward wanted repaid in full was 500,000 times less. I am happy that Barclay did this math because otherwise we would not grasp the enormity of what the first man owed in comparison to the pittance owed him. A denarius was a day’s wage.
In the first place, Jesus told this parable to show how infinitely large and vast is God’s grace and mercy. In the second place, by implication, we are to consider the sins committed against us. As much as we may have hurt, as disappointed in a friend or family member as we may have been left, by human standards — as much as you have a right to expect justice — none of it is but a pittance compared to what any of us owe God.
We may not be murderers, thieves or gossips, and we may give generously of our time and treasures. We may not be America’s most wanted. When one looks at the comparison between crooks and people like us, the distance from God’s perspective might not be that much. We each and all owe God infinitely more than anyone else owes us!
“Have patience with me and I will pay you everything!” That is the biggest joke here. But how many bargains have we made with God? “Lord, if You forgive me, I promise never to do it again!” And those of us who are parents, how often did your children at various ages make similar promises? Did you believe them?
OK, so neither the math nor our methods work out very well for any of us! Perhaps it is because of the value we tend to place on our hurts.
Gigi and I were driving to upstate New York on Easter Sunday afternoon, 2019. Back in 1983, we were run into from the rear at a stop light by a woman driving 50-60 mph. There were no skid marks, just boom! I would love to share more about that some other time. Suffice it to say, I have lived in my rear view mirror ever since.
On that Easter afternoon there was this large white vehicle five cars back weaving in and off the road on both sides. I asked Gigi to get out paper and pen because if the vehicle got past us, I wanted it reported. Next thing we know at between 70-80 mph this Chevy Tahoe smacked us, pushed us off the road barely inches from the guard rail, and 500 feet later came to a stop.
I do not believe this was an accident but a criminal act. She admitted fault and the State Trooper gave her four tickets.
We were physically uninjured, but you should ride with Gigi and experience the lingering effect of this hit. I forgive her, but so that she harms no one else, I want her license suspended. Her insurance, All State, advertises 40% discounts for good drivers. I want her to pay at least 40% more. Am I an ogre? Possibly, but it is the reality of how I feel. Yet I can still forgive her, lest I (we) be the one(s) who are losing sleep over this incident.
Just as important, and really inescapable, as are our feelings about this woman’s crime against us — we must be honest and authentic — so also forgiveness, as Jesus states, must be authentic, that is, “from the heart.” There is no faking forgiveness! God sees through it even if no one else does.
In Luke 7:36, Jesus has a woman of questionable character anointing his feet and drying them with her hair. Obviously this freaked out his Pharisee host. Jesus then told another story about two debtors, one owing 10 times what the other owed. Which one, asked Jesus, will love the creditor more for forgiving the debt?
The one forgiven the most!
The insurmountable debt forgiven by the king of the first debtor here should have brought him so much joy and gratitude that he couldn’t wait to forgive the debt of the fellow who owed him so little. He chose instead his own fate — and, oh, how just was his deserved reward!
Abusing God’s grace is a dangerous matter. Accepting God’s grace gratefully is a genuine delight. Thank you, Jesus!