15th Sunday of Pentecost September 13, 2020
First Reading: Genesis 50:15-21
Second Reading: Romans 14:1-12
Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35
Prayer of the Day:
O Lord God, merciful judge, you are the inexhaustible fountain of forgiveness. Replace our hearts of stone with hearts that love and adore you, that we may delight in doing your will, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Hymns of the Day
If you don’t have hymnals at home,
look up the hymns on YouTube or other websites.
Gather Us In (ELW 532)
Rise, Shine, You People! (ELW 665)
In Thee Is Gladness (ELW 867)
Forgiveness Waltz (Jonathan Rundman)
God of Wonders (Chris Tomlin)
Reflection on Matthew 18:15-20
by Pastor Tim Dean
God’s Uncountable Forgiveness
Today’s gospel text comes right on the heels of Jesus’ words: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (18:20)
These words are a good place to begin as we approach the topic of forgiveness. Jesus is with us as we try to forgive and let go of past hurts, and work toward mending broken relationships.
Jesus is with us as we roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of forgiving others. And it is hard work.
Jesus’ response to Peter makes that clear. Peter wants a clear-cut, reasonable number of times to forgive. But Jesus says we are to forgive not 7, but 77 times. Or depending on the translation, 490 times!
I love Jesus’ playful exaggeration. Forgiveness is not about checking boxes, counting the sins, or simply parroting words, but an on-going, central part of being his disciples.
Jesus also uses exaggeration in the story that follows to illustrate his point about forgiveness. This is an odd and difficult parable!
Let’s start with a servant who owes the king 10,000 talents (18:24). In our world, that’s about $200 million. It’s so outlandish that we might ask, “How is that even possible???” But the servant begs, the king has mercy, and his entire debt is canceled.
The tables are reversed, and the servant is now in the position of having another servant owe him a significantly smaller amount (about $8000). The first servant, however, does not take pity. When the king hears it, he is enraged, cancels his earlier promise to forgive the debt, and has the first servant tortured.
I don’t know about you, but I choke on the idea of God being anything like an enraged, unhinged king who tortures people, even scoundrels.
Yet the point seems to be that even when the first servant’s huge debt is wiped out, it makes no difference for how he treats another person in the same shoes, whose debt is so much smaller. The first servant’s lack of forgiveness leads to tragic consequences.
Seminary Professor Audrey West says that the “torture” at the end of the parable is not literal, but a metaphor for our human failure to treat others as God has first treated us. It is the “torture” of unforgiveness. We refuse to let go of old hurts and resentments, and the poison festers within us. Or the “torture” is failing to see how we ourselves have caused pain for others or been part of an oppressive system. (West, workingpreacher.org, “Commentary on Matthew 18:21-35,” Sept. 13, 2020)
Forgiving those who have we hurt us is a central practice of following Jesus, and yet it is often hard. It’s much easier to stay in the more powerful spot of holding a grudge over someone rather than letting it go. It’s much easier to keep a record of the hurts, even when it tortures the relationship.
Granted…forgiving someone who has caused trauma or abuse can be extremely difficult, if not impossible. Forgiveness is not a license for continued injustice, abuse, or inequality in any relationship.
When there are deep wounds, a person seeking to forgive will need strong emotional support, and perhaps guided work with a pastor, therapist, or spiritual director. And it is still hard work. It is hard—even getting to the point of seeing a bully or an abuser as a human being.
Our text today affirms that forgiveness is difficult for us human beings, and we need all the support, prayer, and compassion we can get.
And yet we are called by Jesus, the One who is with us in all our relationships, to continue in this ministry to seek God’s reconciliation for what is broken.
I read a powerful story of forgiveness this week about a Dutch Christian woman, Corrie ten Boom. She was imprisoned in a German concentration camp in World War 2, for hiding Jews in her home.
Corrie lost a beloved sister at this camp, but after the war, she traveled around Europe, preaching the Christian gospel of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Corrie wrote of an encounter with a former German prison guard whom she recognized at one of her talks in 1947. The former guard came up to her after her talk. He asked for her forgiveness for what he had done and held out his hand to her.
Corrie stood there for a few minutes, coldness and anger clutching her heart. She prayed silently, “Jesus, help me. Help me to lift my hand…. I can do that much.”
“And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one that stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm… And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“‘I forgive you brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’
“For a long moment, we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.” (Corrie ten Boom, “The Hiding Place,” quoted by Kathryn Schifferdecker on workingpreacher.org, 9-6-20)
Forgiveness is hard. But the good news is that God is with us as we engage in this work, infusing us with the help and strength we need.
God has given us a new future by forgiving us so that God’s love can flow through us to forgive others.
The truth is, dear friends, God’s mercy and love for us cannot be counted. It is an unfathomable gift of grace.
Later in the gospel, it is Jesus who announces on the night that Peter and other disciples abandon him: “This is the blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:28)
In his cup of death, Jesus creates a new way, where our sins are not held against us, our past does not define us. In his cup of resurrection, Jesus offers grace upon grace, empowering you and me to be this grace for others.
He is with us—forgiving without limit, helping us to forgive others, mending our broken relationships, and making all things new. Amen.
Let Us Pray
Let us pray: O Lord God, merciful judge, you are the inexhaustible fountain of forgiveness. Replace our : O Lord God, merciful judge, you are the inexhaustible fountain of forgiveness. Replace our
hearts of stone with hearts that love and adore you, that we may delight in doing your will, hearts of stone with hearts that love and adore you, that we may delight in doing your will, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.