Summary: We desire, and expect God’s forgiveness when we ask. But it is so hard to offer that forgiveness to others when they sin against us.
Forgive? Who Me?
I remember this story about a famous person in American history, and for the life of me, I can’t remember who it was. Anyway, this person was asked one Sunday afternoon about the worship service he attended that morning. “What did the preacher preach about?” The answer was, “Sin.” “Well, what did he have to say about it?” The answer came: “He was against it.”
I am going to preach about sin this morning, and if anyone doesn’t feel the need to hang around because sin isn’t an issue for you, then you can go ahead and leave a little early… but most of you probably should stay. Actually, I’m going to preach more about forgiveness, but we can’t get to that point without first establishing our need for it.
The Scripture lesson this morning is set in Capernaum, a city on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. If you go there today, you will no doubt visit the ruins of an old synagogue, because all of the tour buses stop there. If I remember correctly, this synagogue was built in the second or third century and is said to have been constructed on the site of Simon Peter’s house. In the eighth chapter of Matthew, Jesus is found in Capernaum where he goes into Peter’s house and heals Peter’s mother-in-law. Later, in Matthew 17, the setting is again in a house in Capernaum. On this fairly circumstantial evidence, I am going to assume that the setting for today’s discussion about sin and forgiveness took place as Jesus and the disciples were in Peter’s house.
Again, this is just a guess, but perhaps Jesus and the disciples were resting up for a little while before they began their journey southward. You see, Jesus is getting ready to leave the Galilee for the final time. His next trip to Judea will be his last, as his death predictions will come true.
What we do know for sure is that they were all gathered together and Jesus told them a parable in response to a question by Peter. Peter asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to Seven times?”
According to the Revised Standard Version and the Good News Bible, Jesus said, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” The New International Version softens that a little by reducing it to “seventy seven times,” but it remains obvious that forgiveness is meant to be an unlimited offering.
As an example, Jesus offers up the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. “The Kingdom of God,” he says, “is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.” This is a parable of the absurd, yet drives home the point about the all encompassing, compassionate, abundant, never failing mercy of God.
The absurdity begins with a servant who owes 10,000 talents, or as the Good News Bible says, “Millions of dollars.” This is an incredible amount of money. The servant begs for mercy from the king, and the king in turn offers him forgiveness of the debt. You have to wonder what king in his right mind would write off a debt this large. What business person in his or her right mind would cancel a debt worth this much? Who would allow him or herself to be cheated out of that amount?
As absurd all that sounds, it is still a wonderful picture of the absurdity of the Kingdom of God. We are in debt to God more than we could ever know or even imagine. Yet God forgives us. In the world’s economy, that is absurd. But in the economy of God, that is the normal way of doing business. In the economy of God, the kingdom is built on mercy and not retribution. In the economy of God, forgiveness becomes the norm and not the exception.
I don’t know about you, but I really appreciate a God who goes out of the way to forgive me. I really appreciate a God who doesn’t get tired of forgiving me. I am really glad that God’s mercy extends beyond all reasonable expectations because I need it. You see, I realize just how great a sinner I am.
If we would take the time to catalogue my sins, we would find that they are numerous. I tend to be a sourpuss. I am grumpy more often that I would really like. I tend to be greedy and gluttonous. I’m arrogant and sometimes rude. I don’t pay attention or listen to others like I should. I’m sometimes short-tempered with my kinds. I forget about my wife sometimes. Get me in a group of preachers and I’ll gossip about my colleagues with the rest of them. I tend to expect the worst from folks. I’m lazy and self-centered. And I hate to mow my grass or rake my leaves…so much so that the lady next door yells at me.