Sermons

Summary: In forgiving others, we reflect the divine grace we have received.

September 13, 2020

Hope Lutheran Church

Matthew 18:21-35

Forgiveness: From a Dead End to a Forever Future

Friends, may grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and Christ Jesus our Lord.

A father is helping his young daughter with her homework. He picks up the paper she’s working on and sees a math function. “(70 x 7) – 34 … Gee, that seems like a pretty tough math problem for a second grader.”

His daughter replies, “No, Dad, this isn’t for school. This is the number of times I still need to forgive my big, dumb brother.” *

In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus has a conversation with his disciples about forgiveness. Peter wants to know how many times he should forgive an offender. The standard answer from rabbis was three times. When Peter queries Jesus, he lavishly ups that number. “Do I need to forgive my neighbor seven times?”

Peter probably thinks he’s showing a tremendous generosity by suggesting such an extravagant amount of mercy. But Jesus’ answer blows Peter out of the water. “No, not just seven times, Peter. You need to forgive seventy-seven times.” Some versions read “seventy times seven,” which would be 490 times.

Either way, it’s a huge number. Jesus’ response completely eclipses anything Peter could have imagined. Can you picture carrying around a small notebook? In it, you’d write the name of every person you knew. Next to their name, you’d place marks for each time you’d forgiven them.

No, no you can’t imagine it! Nobody would do that! That’s the point of Jesus’ answer. He states such an impossibly high number you’d simply lose track. That’s his point. “Peter, just keep on forgiving. That’s what I want you to do. Don’t keep score. Forgive without limit, Peter.”

For Jesus, forgiveness is an essential quality of the divine reflection. He tells Peter a story of outrageous forgiveness. A certain royal slave has racked up an unbelievable debt: 10,000 talents.

A talent was a weight measure. It was equivalent to 130 pounds. 130 pounds of silver. This week, the price of silver was $26.97 per ounce. So, 10,000 talents of silver would be worth $560,976,000.00 in today’s money. This is an outrageous sum of money. In his story, Jesus has purposely chosen a number so impossibly large, the man could never repay the amount.

And nevertheless, the king shows mercy on him. He flat-out forgives the debt! It’s a crazy story! What king would forgive over a half billion dollars of debt? No one, that’s who!

That’s the whole point of the story. This king’s lavish forgiveness of debt reflects how generously God forgives our debts. We owe God a debt we can’t possibly repay! We cannot make whole what we have broken.

And yet, God shows such tremendous mercy to us! Through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we have been restored to a perfect, whole relationship with God our creator.

Jesus’ parable is disturbing in two ways. First of all, there’s something unsettling that this guy who had racked up such a huge debt got off, Scott free. There’s something out of sync with our notion of justice. This man had done something seriously wrong! If he is absolved, what motivation is there for anyone else to follow the law? Our notion of justice and accountability are in place for a reason. They maintain good order in society and protect the welfare of all.

But this story isn’t primarily about our worldly justice. Jesus tells this parable to convey something very central about divine justice. And there is a cost, a great cost. It took a great deal for that king to forgive that monumental debt. It was the king, not the man, who absorbed the loss.

God’s grace doesn’t come without cost. That cost has been met through our Lord Jesus Christ. The healing of our broken relationship with the divine is not, and cannot, be ventured by us. This breach cannot be mended on our side of the equation.

No, it can only be restored through divine power. And the power of the Divine is Love. “For God so loved the world, he gave his only Son.” It is God who steps into the void. It’s the divine Son of God who crosses into our realm of hurt and sorrow and brokenness.

Our shattered relationship with our creator was at a standstill. It was divine initiative that finally moved the impasse. God is always the prime mover. It was God who brought all things into being, and it was God who shaped the vehicle to restore our ruptured relationship. When Jesus came to live with us and as one of us, that division was crossed from God to us. And then through his death, Jesus took into himself all that separates us from God, all that corrupts our true nature. He took all of that into himself, and he took it with him to the grave. By taking it in, he took it to its end.

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