Summary: A sermon preached 9/11/2011 for a joint service of the McConnellsburg Lutheran Parish that speaks of the topic of forgiveness.
Our Gospel reading has quite a parable to it. One that has a lesson that seems so simple and practical, yet, when the rubber meets the road, we find out it’s not so easy. It even seems as if Peter doesn’t quite get it at first. And on this day, 10 years after the terrorist attacks in our country changed our lives forever, it’s a topic that perhaps many of us don’t want to have to think about or talk about. Today’s lessons give us a chance to speak about forgiveness, and in particular, the reason why we are set free to forgive other people.
In the previous part of this chapter, Jesus had just told His disciples how to go about trying to restore a brother or sister who was caught up in sin. You’ll remember the process that our Lord gave was 1) speak to that person one on one, 2) if that doesn’t work, take one or two others along to try to show that person the danger of their sin and achieve reconciliation, 3) if that didn’t work, tell it to the church so that the body of believes in that place can do what they can to restore the erring brother or sister in Christ, and finally, if after several attempts at speaking the truth of God’s word of Lawto that person, the person chose to cling to their sin instead of turning to Christ in repentance and faith and seek to be forgiven of that sin, that person is removed from the fellowship of believers because they chose to cling to the sin instead of cling to Christ. Now as we begin today’s text, and this talk about sin and forgiveness, of Law and Gospel if you will, in this conversation we have in today’s text, we’re not dealing with open, unrepentant sinners who refuse to acknowledge what they are doing to themselves or to someone else is sinful and against the will of God. We’re dealing with someone who fits into the first or second category who sins against you, you’ve told them what God’s Word has to say, and they say “You’re right. What I have done is sinful and against God’s Law. I shouldn’t have done it I’m sorry, I repent, I will not do it again. Please forgive me.”
In this case as today’s text opens, Peter has a good question. “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Peter thinks he’s being pretty generous here. Once, yeah, sure. Twice, okay. Most of us though would usually go with the three strikes, you’re out policy. Peter thinks seven times is being pretty forgiving, but what does Jesus say? “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” Let’s see…do the math…and that comes to 490 times! You can just picture the look on Peter’s face when Jesus says that. “490 times! Even if he does the same thing to me over and over and over again? Jesus, you can’t be serious? Okay, 490 is a lot, but just wait until he crosses me for the 491st time, then I can cut him off!”
But is Jesus really putting a number on forgiveness here? No. In the parable, Jesus makes that clear by giving us a picture of a king who wanted to settle some of his accounts. One of the debtors was brought before him, and this man owed him “ten thousand talents.” To put it in modern terms that we can understand, let’s just say he owed the king bazillions of dollars. The size of his debt was such that there was no hope of ever possibly earning enough income to even pay the interest on it, let alone repay the debt itself. Now this debtor knows he’s in big trouble. And now he has to answer for his debt. He knows he has no way he can ever earn enough to repay the debt. The king considers the situation, and orders that the man be sold into slavery along with his wife and children, all of the man’s possessions be sold, and that the proceeds go toward repaying his debt. The debtor makes a last ditch plea for mercy “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” Now everyone there knows that the debt is such there’s no way this man can ever possibly hope to repay everything. He’s simply appealing to the master to have mercy on him. Undeserved mercy of some sort, even if his attempt to pay back the debt will be feeble at best. And what does the master do? “Out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.” That crushing weight of that huge debt was gone! Forgiven! Meaning it wasn’t there anymore. He no longer owed the master anything. For this man who was looking at losing everything, the Master in His mercy has given him not just freedom, but literally his life back!