Summary: A message on forgiveness and settling "accounts" with people in terms of healing relationships.
Today, is the leavetaking of the Dormition, and we are hearing the parable of the king who wished to settle accounts with his servants, so we are taking an account of things. Why an accounting now? School is just starting! That’s true, but as a parent before I send a child to school, I take an account of what he has, and what he needs: more pants, an extra pair of shoes, paper, pens, pencils, etc.
We are going to take an account of ourselves in order that the next big feast, Indiction (Church New Year) may be celebrated ’ready.’
Just before the setting of today’s Gospel reading, we find Jesus and Peter talking about forgiveness. Peter has been given the keys of the kingdom earlier in Matthew’s Gospel and now he is asking for some more specific instruction.
How often am I to forgive? Seven times?
It’s a good question. After all, how often do we forgive someone seven times?
Okay, sure, if it’s a family member, we kind of have to, but in reality if someone wrongs us twice -- we write them off. No, in reality, we don’t even forgive seven times. We basically give someone two, or if we are really generous, three chances. Seven times is a stretch for anyone.
Seven is a nice spiritual number. Seven deacons, seven lampstands in the Temple, seven seals, seven bowls, seven trumpets in Revelation (which we are covering now, if you want to know what is going on in our Wednesday night Bible Study). There are a lot of sevens in Scripture.
As you have heard me say, time and again, in the Scriptures there is a pattern to much of the writing.
That is, there is an initial verse, a stikh, and an answering verse which responds to, magnifies or completes the thought of the first verse. We see this in the Psalms, Proverbs, and many other writings.
* Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand.
* There are six things which the LORD hates, seven which are an abomination to him.
Jesus answer today is a kind of answering verse, but he is not just answering Peter. He is answering a verse from Genesis -- Chapter 4 to be specific. This is the chapter of Cain.
Cain slew his brother Abel. "Am I my brother’s keeper?" And states himself that his guilt is more than he can bear. In fact, if anyone sees him, they will KILL him, to crush the sin out of humanity, once and for all. God tells him that he will put a mark on him, and anyone who harms him will receive seven times the same in return.
Cain will be avenged seven times.
Now, Cain is not the point of this interlude, but his son Lamech is. Lamech. The world’s first bigamist. He is also the world’s first mass murderer. Lamech was the kind of character who, if you killed his dog would go and burn your village. He was a man of unrestrained passion and rage. He took to himself two wives. He killed two men, saying to his wives, "If Cain is avenged seven times (because he murdered one man), Lamech will be avenged seventy seven times." Clearly, Lamech is not understanding this whole ’righteousness’ thing, and coming to the wrong conclusion.
Christ’s answer to Peter is not "Seven times." Not "Seventy seven" times. Seventy times seven times. That’s 490 times, for those of you not doing the math in your head.
Here’s the thing. No one counts 490 times to forgive and then says "Ha! That’s it! I’ve forgiven you 490 times and this is number 491! That’s all!" Jesus is telling us something. Start counting your own
unwillingness to forgive, and stop counting the offenses you receive.
Today’s Gospel tells us that the wicked servant owed 10,000 talents. A talent was about a thousand denarii, and a denarii was what you earned in a day if you were a good laborer. This guy was the Bernie Madoff of the ancient world! There was no possible chance for this man to even consider paying this money back. He was a crook and a spendthrift, but out of pity and compassion for him, the lord forgave him the whole amount! He was completely free!
So what does he do? He immediately shakes down men who can pay what they owe, given a little time, and throws them into prison. This man’s fellow servants report the whole thing back to the boss, and the forgiveness is recinded. He is going to pay the full amount now.
This calls for some serious questions about commitment to Christ, and about how we are living our lives.
After a near death experience, folks often start to ask themselves some questions. If you have had a close brush with death, you know what I’m talking about. Here are the kinds of questions that often get asked, and that we should ask ourselves today, in light of today’s Gospel.