Summary: Forgiveness, Freedom, Compassion

JAIL BREAK (Breaking the Chains of Unforgiveness) - Cancel the Debt

September 2, 2018

Matthew 18:21-35 (p. 688)


Two Christians went before a judge on charges of assault and disturbing the peace.

The judge patiently listened to the evidence from both men, and then he called them… “Men, you’re Christians, you should have settled this out of court.”

One of the men, who had an amazing black eye, said to the judge…“Your honor, we were trying to settle it out of court…but that’s when the cops showed up.”

Forgiveness is easy to talk about…it’s not even that tough to read about it in the Bible. The concept sounds nice, loving and helpful…but when we have to put into practice Biblical concepts in the real world…it’s different!

C.S. Lewis says, “Everyone agrees that forgiveness is a lovely idea…until we have something to forgive.”

I had a friend of mine in school that ended up owing the library about 5 dollars in late fees for books he forgot he had.

He tried to explain he’d left for mid-terms…He had a weekend ministry…He forgot he’d borrowed them for term papers…No dice, they wouldn’t let him off the hook…but he got mad…started fuming about it…so he put 500 pennies in this big jar…filled it with honey and took it to the library…slammed it on the counter and said, “Here! Here’s your stupid late fees.

I give him an “A” for ingenuity…but an “F” in forgiveness.

I’m not sure who first said, “I don’t get mad I get even” but my experience has been most people live more by this rule than the golden one.

Maybe we don’t put honey in penny jars, but we just cuss them out, or quit speaking to them…maybe we just give them the cold shoulder…or build a team against them with gossip… “Do you know what so and so did…NO! Well, let me tell you.” (A part of us hopes it gets back to them eventually so they know how horrible they are.)


In the early hours of Friday, January 1, 1982 the seventeen year old Kevin Tunell made the biggest mistake of his life. At a New Year’s party near Washington DC, he got very drunk; his friends urged him not to drive but he insisted, “Nothing will ever happen to me.” On the road, he lost control of the wheel, and smashed into another car, instantly killing eighteen year old Susan Herzog. After pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and drunk driving, Tunell was sentenced to three years probation and one year of community service.

But Susan’s parents, understandably, didn’t feel that this was sufficient punishment. They sued him in civil court for emotional distress, for $1,500,000.

Then quite unexpectedly, after meeting Kevin, Susan’s parents offered to settle out of court. The terms of the ruling included an amount of $936, one bizarre condition:

The settlement required that Kevin pay the $936 by sending them a check for $1 made out to the deceased Susan Herzog, every Friday for the next eighteen years - one for every year Susan had been alive.

The penalty seemed like he had been let off easy, but soon the burden of guilt proved too much for Kevin to bear. He tried to present the Herzogs with two boxes of pre-written checks, dated each week through 2001, a year longer than required. The couple refused to accept them.

After seven years of the weekly purgatorial ritual, Kevin began to miss a few payments. The Herzogs promptly dragged him back into court. Giving an account before Judge Jack Stevens, a teary Tunell admitted that the agonizing guilt he felt each time he filled in Susan’s name had become unbearable.

“You get to a point where you kind of snap - and you say, it hurts too much…I used to, like, lie in bed, and if I heard…noises, I used to think Susan was going to come to visit me.”

He was sentenced to 30 days in jail, Susan’s dad, Lou said:

“Susan’s death is there every waking moment, but every time we don’t get a check, there’s only one thing that comes to our mind: He doesn’t remember.”

The Herzogs insist that their insistence is not vindictive retribution. Susan’s mother, Patty explained,

“We do want him to remember, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want him to accept it and get on with his life.”

There’s not one word I would say to the Herzogs about understanding what they’ve gone through burying their daughter, killed by a drunk driver.

But, I’d ask you…“Is 936 checks enough?”

How many payments would you demand from the one whose hurt or offended you?

Peter asked Jesus a pretty similar question one time…In fact it’s the question that prompted the parable we’re examining today.

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