Prayer before reading:
Lord Jesus Christ,
You call us to come
To be with you.
By your Spirit help me
To see you,
To hear you,
To receive your Spirit,
To be led by your Spirit.
Read slowly. Listen deeply. Indwell the scripture.
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
If we are anxious to get away from the subject of kingdom attitudes and ethics, our lectionary guide bids us stay longer in Simon Peter’s house. Jesus has been giving guidance regarding the upside down values of the kingdom of heaven, the huge value he places on the need for little children – as well as new followers of Jesus – to be welcomed and never despised, and the need for restoration of relationship within the community of his followers. This work of talking to the one who has sinned against you finally requires forgiveness, not just a confession from the wrong-doer, in order for peace to once again grace the space within and between persons.
Peter has been listening. He accepts what Jesus says, but has a question: “Lord, if my brother (or sister) sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” (the perfect number in Jewish reckoning). In response Jesus says, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (A number way beyond perfection – perfection times perfection). (Matthew 18:21,22)
This calls for a patient, enduring, and sincere practice of letting go of the desire to retaliate, or to say, “Well, that’s enough! I’ve forgiven her ten times already, and she still keeps doing it!”
However, if we think that this ongoing practice of forgiveness pulls us into the ditch of a life-long drudgery of being wronged and having to forgive, Jesus calls us to lift our gaze to see kingdom of God realities. To help us see what for us is mostly unseen in the heavenly realm, Jesus tells us a story.
Read Matthew 18:23-27 slowly two or three times. Recall that one “talent” in Jesus’ day was worth more than he could ever repay in even fifteen years! This laborer owes more than he can repay in a dozen lifetimes. More than that, his debt affects his wife, his children, and all he owns. And the king, wanting to settle the debt, is about to sell the whole family. In desperation the man falls on his knees and begs for the king to have patience. He will repay everything.
If we pause to reflect just a little on how impossible it would be for this laborer to repay all that he owes in his lifetime, then we begin to catch a glimpse of the grace and magnitude of the king’s compassion. The king releases him, forgives him the debt. This common laborer walks out of the king’s palace a free man, owing nothing!
It is against the backdrop of this merciful and forgiving response, that Jesus continues to answer Simon Peter’s question about forgiveness. Jesus now bids us enter into the human realm of the king’s domain. The man who has just been forgiven of his massive, impossible debt, sees another slave who happens to owe him 100 denarii (the equivalent of 100 days wages).
Read Matthew 18:28-35 slowly two or three times.
Simon Peter has received his answer. Forgiveness is an attitude of heart – God’s heart in us, guiding our responses, freeing us from attachment to money, property, possessions, and our compulsive need to retaliate if someone sins against us.
In the Genesis passage, the story of Joseph and his merciful response to his brothers breathes this heart attitude. Psalm 103 then draws us into God’s presence and gives us words of gratefulness and blessing as we realize just how great God’s forgiveness is, no matter how sinful we are.
The apostle Paul picks up on this theme of mercy and a non-judgmental response as he calls us to notice how our individual freedoms and practices may injure the faith of another – causing another brother or sister to stumble. Hence his words, “Do not let what you eat (or drink, or do) cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died.” (Romans 14:15b)
Yes, Christ’s death on the cross is God’s ultimate offering of forgiveness: offering God’s self in Jesus on the cross to set us free from the captivity to sin and evil.
Again, this huge gift – way beyond anything we can ask or imagine – is given to free us from our immeasurable indebtedness. Jesus helps us see how small the wrongs are that we are called forgive which our brother or sister inflict on us.
Loving and forgiving God,
May your heart and Spirit indwell our own soul and being,
and transform how we respond to those who do us wrong.
Help us to walk in the freedom or your mercy and forgiveness,
And to offer that gift and freedom to others.
In the name of Jesus, who gave himself for us and all creation.
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
- 9/5 Monday: Matthew 18:21-27
- 9/6 Tuesday: Matthew 18:28-35
- 9/7 Wednesday: Psalm 103:1-14
- 9/8 Thursday: Romans 14:1-12
- 9/10 Saturday: Matthew 18:21-27
- 9/11 Sunday: Matthew 18:28-35