Follow Me: Biblical Practices for Faithful Living
“Forgive Others” – Matthew 18:21-35
Decatur Presbyterian Church
November 13, 2022
Our passage for today begins with Peter asking Jesus a fair question, “Jesus, how many times must I forgive someone? As many as seven times?” We do not know much at all about Peter’s background or his family. We are aware that he and his brother Andrew were commercial fishermen with a boat on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee.
We are aware that Jesus made is home base at Peter’s house in Capernaum, Or rather, the house of Peter’s mother. We know nothing about his father or other siblings or potential step-brothers and sisters. We know nothing of potential run-ins with the local Roman soldiers or whether his heart had ever been broken.
According to scholars, the rabbinical code said you must forgive someone at least three times. Forgive someone at least three times and then that person may be removed from your life. You may no longer have anything to do with them.
Forgive three times, then treat them with hostility if you like. Peter, trying to be magnanimous, said, “Lord, how many times must I forgive? as many as seven times? If I count up to seven, then can I have hostility with that person?
No Peter, don’t keep count. Forgive seventy times seven!, a virtually unlimited amount. Remember, forgive your neighbor each new day just as the Lord your God forgives you, for without forgiveness, without reconciliation, there can be no peace with God.
Hear the Word of God from Matthew 18:21-35
Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. ‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents (something like half a million dollars in today’s world) was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.”
And out of pity for him, the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-servants who owed him a hundred denarii (less than ten thousand dollars today); and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.”
Then his fellow-servant fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.
Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-servant, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God
Jesus had a good sense of humor. Jesus had a way of exaggerating his parables in order to make clear the point of the story: a half a million dollars is owed by one, who is forgiven the debt, while less than ten thousand dollars is owed by another, who is thrown into prison. The one forgiven the huge debt threatens his fellow employee’s life to get his far smaller debt paid back.
Fellow servants see what happens and are greatly upset by the situation. They are amazed when this servant is relieved of the half million dollar debt; then they watched him go straight to the other servant and grab him by the throat. This wasn’t right; this was ridiculous. So they tell the king, who summon that first servant and says, “You sinful man. I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.
Your co-worker pleaded with you with the same words you used with me, should you not have also had mercy upon him just as I had mercy upon you?” In anger, the king sends the servant to debtor’s prison for the rest of his life in order that at least a portion of the half million dollars could be paid back.
We are familiar with the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We might say the Golden Rule could be stated in this case in a negative way: “Don’t do unto others what you wouldn’t have them do unto you.” Or, especially in this case, “don’t neglect to do the good unto others that has already been done to you.”
This servant had been forgiven a tremendous debt. A tremendous burden had been lifted; his life was free again; he could live with joy, knowing this tremendous debt was no longer hanging over him.
Should he not also have the same mercy for his neighbor who owed him a far smaller sum?
Forgiveness is a big deal.
Especially for those who have been mistreated, abused, or oppressed in some way. This old world can be harsh and unfair. Human beings can do terrible, seeming unforgivable things to one another.
We dare not forget the horror of the Holocaust or the brutal de-humanization of slavery. Human life is not fair, nor is it altogether safe. And here’s a kicker – if you want to love and be loved by another, you must become vulnerable. In order to share love and intimacy, you must put yourself at emotional risk.
Human beings deeply hurt one another all the time, and forgiveness can be exceedingly difficult. Even when the physical or emotional wounds happened a long time ago, the pain often remains. Emotional scars may have mostly healed, but are still present, still fresh in one’s memories. .
There are many stories of incredible acts of Christian forgiveness, of followers of Jesus offering undeserved and even extravagant forgiveness. A pastor friend in South Carolina visited the local prison and forgave in person the man who had taken his daughter from a public playground and abused her.
You have heard the story of the members of the Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston who forgave that troubled young man who sat in their Bible study on a Wednesday evening, then injured them with gunshots and shot to death their lifelong friends.
We can recall the story of John Lewis, who was beaten on the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma. The man who beat him later sought him out, asking him for forgiveness. Lewis replied that he had forgiven the man even as the blows were being dealt. These sharp stories are almost beyond our imagining.
One of our Wednesday afternoon class members mentioned that it may be harder even to forgive someone whom you love, with whom you live everyday, especially if that loved one continues in the behavior that is harmful to themselves and to you.
Ultimately, forgiveness is an act of self-preservation. For us to forgive another may or may not have an impact on that person, but it certainly will impact our lives.
Forgiveness is not one time, check the box, done.
A sexual abuse survivor spoke up and claimed: “Forgiveness is not a line you cross – it is a road you take.” For those who have been deeply wronged, similar to those who are grieving, forgiveness stays with you. Forgiveness becomes a part of who you are. I can imagine that those African American church members in Charleston knew something about the road of forgiveness, about living with forgiveness so that old resentments and harms do not take over our lives.
Must the other person be present for us to forgive them? Not necessarily. The other person may have died, or it may be dangerous for you to forgive them in person. Must the other person be remorseful for what they have done? Not necessarily. Socio-pathic personalities may do harm intentionally, and even enjoy it.
Must we want to forgive? Not at all. We often must find our way to forgiveness even when we do not want to do so.
Lack of forgiveness allows the other person to still hold some measure of power over you. Holding on to grudges and resentments, desiring revenge and retribution, all allows that other person to hold sway over your life and emotions.
Someone said: Forgiveness is not easy, but it is necessary. Not forgiving is like carrying around a sack of old potatoes. Have you ever seen or smelled an old sack of potatoes? If we hold onto our hurts and grudges and desire for revenge and retribution, doing so will ruin our lives and relationships, not unlike carrying around an old, stinky, gross sack of potatoes.
If we think that forgiveness is all about the past, we are wrong. Ultimately, forgiveness is about what kind of future we hope to build, the kind of life we will live going forward.
Remember the steps of forgiveness we are exploring this month? First, name the sin, not only the sin of those who have wronged us, but our own sin as well. Second, receive forgiveness from God, taking to heart our dependence upon God’s grace. Third, forgive others, just as we have been forgiven.
Forgiveness of others begins with being forgiven. Next week, we will talk about the fourth step, building a bridge of reconciliation. Do you remember the Parable of the Prodigal Sons?
The elder brother did not want to forgive his younger brother. The elder brother’s life had been seriously impacted by the sins of his brother, but, more than that, the elder brother saw the harm done to his father. It can be harder to forgive something done to someone you love than something done to you.
If someone hurts your child or your spouse or your parent, you may have a much harder time forgiving them than if the hurt had happened to you. Consider that elder brother in the parable. There are two scenarios for his future and the future of his family, one in which the elder brother forgives holds onto the grudge and never forgives, and maintains or even builds upon the dysfunction and brokenness of the family.
The other scenario is that he finds the wherewithal to recognize his own sin, to receive forgiveness from his father, to ultimately forgive his brother, and to rebuild the harmony and reconciliation of the family.
Forgiveness is central to the teachings of Jesus Christ, central to our weekly worship. We have been talking about how Bible study will change your life. When we hear Jesus tell Peter to forgive seventy times seven, or when we consider what happens to the unforgiving servant in Jesus’ parable, or when we hear Jesus, stripped and beaten and hanging on a cross, crying out: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
As we approach this holiday season, there just may be some lack of reconciliation between you and a family member or a co-worker or an old friend. Some of you may be harboring resentments against a parent or an adult child or a former spouse.
If we want to follow Jesus, we must examine those feelings, take a hard look at that situation, consider ourselves as one who has been released from the tremendous burden of sin, and then, find our way to releasing another of their sin against us, even if they are not receptive and could care less.
Forgiveness may not be easy, but it is necessary.
Forgiveness is NOT forgetting, but it is letting go and refusing to no longer desire revenge or retribution.
Not forgiving is like barring the door of our heart against God’s forgiveness of us. If we bar a door to a neighbor or family member or whomever we bar a door against – another nation, another people, another religion, whomever it is, – if we bar that door to another then that door is barred from us to God.
One commentator spoke of forgiveness as the breath we breathe. Unless we breathe out the breath of forgiveness, we cannot inhale the forgiveness of God. We will suffocate in our resentment.
(Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone: Part Two, WJKP, 2002, p. 39)
The Lord’s Prayer, the central prayer of our faith, pleads, “Forgive us our debts, O Lord, as we forgive our debtors.” There is no quota, no limit to God’s forgiveness. God forgives with extravagant grace. As long as we open the door of forgiveness to our neighbor, God’s grace will come pouring in.
Thanks be to God for God’s indescribable gift of grace. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
November 13, 2022