Community Lutheran Church | OLD

The Unforgiving Servant

I wish I was a more forgiving person, I really do.  After getting so excited for the start of the football season last week, as I’m sure you Charger fans were as well, I was treated to my beloved Kansas City Chiefs putting up an embarrassing performance getting schooled by a pretty pathetic team. I couldn’t wait to get on the web and see some pundits lambaste my favorite team and rip them to shreds. It’s only one game into the season, but I don’t know… Can I forgive them? But the bigger story about forgiveness in the National Football League this week, and across the national media this week has been about former Running Back Ray Rice, who knocked his then fiancée unconscious in an elevator and then dragged her out while surveillance cameras caught everything.  Something that would be unthinkable for many turned out to be seemingly easy for Janay.  She forgave him and even married him a few months later, although many would say she is just stuck in the cycle of domestic abuse.  Should she have forgiven him? Or by forgiving him is she just enabling him to hurt her again? Those are tough questions.


Whether the offense is major or minor, the reality is that forgiveness is tricky business. It’s not always as black and white as just saying “I’m sorry”and “I forgive you”. Forgiveness takes wading through emotions and heartache, it takes contemplation about the status of a relationship. It takes hard conversations. It takes creating boundaries so that severe hurt won’t happen again.  Forgiveness is messy business.  It’s much easier to seek revenge.  Even at the ripe old age of two, I get wonderful stories from my son about preschool like “Dylan hit me and so I hit Dylan too.” “Did he say sorry?” “NOPE!” “Did you say sorry?” “NOPE!” “Are you still friends?” “YEP!”  If only it were that easy in the real world.  Now, we may not always seek revenge violently against someone, but there are many ways of getting someone back, including silently harboring a grudge or shunning them.  Ever given someone the silent treatment? It is HORRIBLE! But even for those of us who don’t take revenge against someone else, secretly when someone who has hurt us goes through a hard time, we think that they had it coming and they got what they deserve. 


This was a prominent attitude in Jesus’ time, too, except someone’s honor and dignity was placed at such a high level, that even among religious people, revenge could be and was often justified.  “An Eye for an Eye”was one of the most prevalent teachings of Jesus’ day and even found in the Old Testament numerous times!  Forgiveness was noble, but vengeance was necessary and inevitable.  The Jews had lost their control of homeland to the ruthless Romans who not only monitored and taxed their every movement, but mocked and belittled them at every turn as well. The Jews were waiting for Gods kingdom to bring vengeance upon the evil outsiders and restore them to their former glory.  Wipe the Romans off the face of the earth! But here comes this new rabbi on the scene. This radical preacher named Jesus who proclaimed that God’s Kingdom was finally here upon the earth. Who was the very embodiment of God’s Kingdom, the Son of God, the Messiah who was promised to bring peace from the very beginning of time.  But instead of peace through vengeance, Jesus turns around the common presupposition.


Matthew 5:38-39 - “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” 


It was common for the Roman soldiers to beat or mock or steal from anyone they wish.  But instead of carrying out vengeance, Jesus is calling the Jews of his day to turn the other cheek! Now that doesn’t just mean to take abuse for the sake of taking abuse.  By allowing your attacker to hit you on the other cheek, or to take all of your clothing, or walking an extra mile, you would bring shame upon him.  You would expose his harshness so that it would be evident.  So as we are to understand it today, revenge is not ours to take.  Justice doesn’t come from getting even.  Jesus takes it a step farther, and not only calls us to be passive, but to forgive from our hearts.  According to Jesus, for us disciples Forgiveness isn’t an OPTION! For the life of a believer it is a way of life: But what does that look like? Why do we do it? What does it mean to forgive? And what doesn't it mean? As we continue our series on the parables of Jesus, those stories and metaphors that he uses to portray a deeper truth about His Kingdom and the wisdom of God, today we come across a story about radical forgiveness, and the heart that truly understands not only how to forgive others, but the radical forgiveness that we have received from God through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

To begin this teaching, we are privy to a conversation that Jesus had with Peter, a question that he poses about the nature of forgiveness. 


Matthew 18:21-22 -Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.


How many times do I have to forgive before I cut someone off?  Have you ever asked yourself that? How many times does your spouse have to be completely insensitive before you throw in the towel? How many times can your friend be rude before you give up on the relationship and shun them? How many stupid things will your teenage children do before you refuse to let them come back home again?  In Jesus day, there was actually an answer for this.  Prominent Rabbi’s were satisfied if you forgave someone three times. Peter, being a show off suggested seven times, and in essence, what Jesus says is infinity!  I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a little bit too much!  Now hopefully in a relationship between two people, there is enough give and take and steps being made so that the same mistakes aren't committed into infinity, however, what Jesus is saying is in the nature of true forgiveness, it can’t be limited to a certain number. TRUE Forgiveness isn’t LIMITED. There isn’t a countdown until you don’t have to forgive anymore.  Now this can be frustrating, but also incredibly beautiful when we realize that God’s forgiveness works the same with us.  He doesn’t give us a certain number of strikes until we’re out.  That was Joel’s 25th time to switch lanes without using his blinker!  That was his 5th time envying his neighbors! That was his 100th time judging someone on Facebook - get him out of here! God doesn’t do that.  His forgiveness is infinite, and he calls us to do the same for others.  To further illustrate the profound reality of what forgiveness looks like Jesus tells a story…


Matthew 18:23-27 —Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.  And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.


Jesus imagines a Gentile king who wants to settle accounts with his servants, who are likely tax farmers for a specific region.  One of these financial ministers is said to owe tax revenues of upwards of ten thousand talents!  Now a single talent is the equivalent of about a years’ worth of work.  We’re talking about billions of dollars in a world that would have never seen that kind of money.  It is an insurmountable sum, laughable, hyperbole indeed.  Obviously he couldn’t pay it, and so he and his family are sold into slavery, not improving his financial situation, but at least appeasing some of the king’s anger toward his servant. The servant falls face down and begs, and the king had pity. The Greek word literally means - compassion, from his gut, he felt for him and he released him not only of the sentence, but also of his debt and forgave it.


For those of us on this side of the cross, we know exactly the correlation that Jesus is making here.  We know the tremendous debt that we are in because of our sin.  That we have rebelled against God and failed to keep his commands to love him with all our heart and love our neighbor as ourself in every way, that we do not deserve to be loved by the God who created us, but instead we are born enemies of him. But not only does he have compassion on us and remove from us the fate that we deserve, an eternity separated from Him and His love, but he completely wipes out our debt all together.  Because Jesus took our insurmountable debt away from us, by paying for it on the cross, God looks at us and says: FORGIVEN.  What Jesus is sharing with us here is that forgiveness isn’t CONDITIONAL based upon the severity of the sin. As Saint Paul wrote in Romans 3 and Bob Dylan also famously quipped “Ain’t no man righteous, no, not even one”.  From the worst of sinners to those that we don’t consider really “that bad”, according to God’s holy standard, all of us fall short of the glory of God and there is nothing we can do to repay our debt.  But there is nothing you could do to make God love you less. God’s forgiveness is total, complete, unconditional, and forever, and with that in mind, Jesus tells us to forgive without condition as well. He continues…


Matthew 18:28-30—But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe. So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you. He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.


The story takes an unexpected turn. The servant now exits the palace and confronts a colleague.  Who is this second servant? Two theories are possible.  One, this could be a subcontractor to the first servant, who collects taxes from a smaller location within the larger region. In this case, the forgiveness of the first servant should extend all the way down. The second possibility is more grim. This man could also be a servant of the king, an equal to the first servant, however he may owe the first servant a personal debt, one which pales in comparison to the original debt owed by the first servant.  A couple thousand dollars compared to the billions owed by the first servant. What is striking here is that such a deed would be offensive to the king not only because it lacks grace, but because by imprisoning a servant of the king who also owes the king money. In this interpretation Jesus could be saying that by failing to forgive others, we are harming God’s work of giving them forgiveness as well.  By harboring anger, We put up walls that are not easily broken.


Regardless, Jesus is showing the hypocrisy and ungratefulness of the first servant in a way that anyone would have been upset by his action. Yet, the heart of the matter is that though we have been forgiven a huge debt, our sin, by God the father, we often fail to see how we are unmerciful to those who have wronged us, even when that wrong is something petty.  Though God had every right to punish and banish us over a huge grievance, we often harbor grudges, lash out in anger, and sometimes even hate in our hearts those who have done wrong to us. Jesus is making the case that Forgiveness is not just one way. You cannot be the recipient of a most gracious forgiveness and then turn around and be hard to others.  No matter who it is or what the offense. The forgiveness that we have received is to be trickled down, given out with compassion in our hearts even when people have disgustingly wronged us.  To finish the story, we hear that the king is not too happy with his servant’s actions.


Matthew 18:31-35 —When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”


Forgiveness begins with an attitude of the heart.  A heart of a follower of Christ that lacks the desire to forgive really has no understanding of the price that Jesus paid when He died to forgive you.  The first servant lacked the compassion that had been given so generously to him.  Now forgiveness doesn’t always mean that you have to forget what happened.  It definitely doesn’t mean that you have to pretend like everything is fine when it isn’t. It doesn’t even mean that boundaries shouldn’t be set so that the damage inflicted cannot happen again.  For example, the Roman Catholic Church got this completely wrong in the past decade.  They believed that forgiveness toward the priests who had molested children would mean that they would never harm any children again and so they reinstated them in other churches.  WRONG!  Forgiveness doesn’t mean allowing the same problem to happen again.  Those priests can be forgiven for that terrible sin without giving them a silver platter to destroy more lives.  In the same way, forgiveness in our lives doesn’t mean that reconciliation with someone else who had hurt you won’t take a long time. Depending on the offense, it might.


But forgiveness does mean, both for your sake and theirs, that you release hatred and bitterness for your own sake as well as theirs.  How many pointless days, weeks, years have we wasted over things that meant a great deal to us, but when compared with the debt that we’ve been forgiven by God pale in comparison.  How many relationships have been strained because we cannot let go of our hurt and get over our pride? When faced with a hardened heart toward someone else, our Lord Jesus reminds us that we are still called to figure out what forgiveness means in that situation.  And before we can even think about it, we must realize that Forgiveness comes from a place of both HUMILITY and THANKFULNESS because Christ FORGAVE US. Knowing that we have been set free, gives us the opportunity to set others free and bring about relationship again.


While there is usually no black and white answer as to how to forgive the various people and situations in our lives, but thankfully there is with Christ.  We HAVE been forgiven.  We are children of the King. But what we do with that forgiveness in this life can either point others to Christ, or imprison them from even hearing from Him. Who needs to be forgiven in your life? How do you forgive your ex-husband or wife? Or the person who stole from you.  Or the friend who betrayed your trust? May we continually rejoice that we have been so graciously forgiven our debt.  May that forgiveness extend into all of our lives, and may we be open to those conversations in our hearts so that Your love and mercy would flow to those whom we have wronged and those who have wronged us. 

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