Sunday, September 17, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Matthew 18:21-35 & Romans 14:1-12
Can you imagine someone paying off all your debts? Imagine how that would feel! No more financial worries. Maybe you could pay off the mortgage on your home, or you could finally buy one – outright. You could pay off your car loans, student loans, and the rest of your bills. You’d probably be in a state of shock at first, but then, you’d be overcome with an incredible amount of gratitude. I know I sure would! Jesus’ parable in Matthew’s gospel today tells us of just such a story.
A servant who owed a king a huge amount experienced just such an amazing situation. He owed the king 10,000 talents, which doesn’t mean that much to the average person today, so let me explain. One talent in the Ancient Middle East was equivalent to about 130 lbs of silver. It would take 15 years to earn that much. The servant Jesus tells us about in his parable owed 10,000 talents meaning that it would have required him about 150,000 years of labor in order to pay it back. In other words, it was a debt that he could never repay.
Yet, when the servant begged the king for mercy, the king did an unbelievable thing. He didn’t just what he could to get some of his money back; the king forgave the entire debt! Everything! This servant no longer owed him anything! He was debt free! Imagine! And imagine if you will how elated this servant must have been. Why you’d think he’d be jumping up and down. He’d be hugging the king and singing his praises! He’d be dancing in the streets and smiling from ear to ear! He would be filled with joy and gratitude! Just imagine how you’d feel!
And when this servant ran into one of his servants, why the obvious reaction would be one of sheer joy. You’d think he’d most likely would have run into him and said, “Hey, the king just forgave all my debt! I don’t have to work the rest of my life knowing I’ll never pay it off! Can you believe it? And now, I’m going to forgive the money you owe me! My heart is so full, I’m going to pay it forward. I’m going to pay this forgiveness forward.
Now, the second servant owed the first one a good some of money to be sure. One denarius was worth about a day’s wage, and since he owed 100 denarius that was worth about 100 days labor or a little over three months. It’s not a small amount, but still, compared to what the first servant owed the king it wasn’t that big in comparison. The king just forgave the huge amount that the first servant owed, so again, with a heart full of gratitude you’d expect the generosity to flow. But that’s not what happened. In fact, what happened is quite shocking.
He demanded payment. He wanted his money now and since the poor servant couldn’t pay it he had him thrown in jail! He showed no mercy. He showed no compassion. He had just been forgiven of all his debt and instead of paying it forward he was thinking only of himself. What happened?
That’s the question isn’t it? What happened? The truth is the first servant didn’t pause to acknowledge anything happened. He didn’t stop to pause and really take in the great gift that was just given to him. He didn’t allow the king’s grace to touch his heart. He felt no gratitude, and no joy over this life changing encounter. He acted like nothing even happened. That is the tragedy in Jesus’ parable. This servant who had just been forgiven everything couldn’t do the same because he was counting money instead of counting grace. He was counting what he could get instead of what he could give. He was counting how much was owed to him instead of counting how much had just been forgiven for him. He was counting on the wrong things.
And that’s what Peter was doing. Jesus told this parable in response to Peter’s question, “How often should I forgive?” Peter thought seven times was a lot better than the religious rule of that time of three. But Jesus said, “seventy seven times” or in some translations, 70 times 7 or 490 times. What Jesus was really saying was forgive a countless number of times. Infinity. And that is something that we can’t do.
But the good news is God can! Yes, God – like the king in Jesus’ story – can forgive what seems something impossible to forgive. In fact, God’s already done just that. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus our sins – those sins that seem unforgiveable – have already been forgiven. Jesus did that on the cross. He forgave you and he forgave me, and he forgave all people and uncountable debt. Yet, like the first servant in the story, we live our lives like that hasn’t happened.
Jesus tells us this story today to remind us to do what the first servant didn’t do. He wants us to pause, to stop, and allow the life-changing event of the cross and resurrection to sink in. And when that does we are transformed and we can live our lives for others. That’s what happened to Martin Luther. Through the study of Scripture he realized that God wasn’t counting his sins against him. Luther didn’t have to continually try to earn his way into God’s favor to repay an uncountable debt. Instead, the Holy Spirit opened Luther’s eyes and his heart and he was able to see that God’s forgiveness and grace are life-changing. It’s that awareness that compelled him to start the reformation of the church. First, it had to begin in his own heart.
It needs to begin in our hearts as well. Each week, in the sacrament of Holy Communion, we are fed and forgiven at Christ’s table. We need to pause and allow this life-changing time of grace to really sink in. When it does it changes our relationship with God and with each other.
A few days ago, when I was visiting with my mom, I experienced such a life-changing moment. I brought Communion to my mom, and as we received that holy meal together, I could feel God’s presence in the room in a very tangible way. I could feel the grace, and so could my mom. She said she was going to keep those little Communion cups so she could look at them every day and be reminded of that special moment. She saw the gift. I know it renewed her body and spirit, and it certainly renewed mine. It was a special time of thanksgiving.
That is what God’s forgiveness and grace does. It frees us. It transforms us. It fills us with thanksgiving. It enables us to do things we can’t do on our own – like forgive those deep wounds that seem almost impossible on our own to forgive. Forgiveness isn’t always easy, but God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, so that changed by grace we can pay it forward. God’s grace enables us focus on what truly matters in life – our relationship with God and with one another. St. Paul reiterates this when he says, “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.” Jesus’ way of life is a life spent in loving relationship with God and each other. It is a life spent not in counting things, but counting how blessed we are by God because of God’s countless grace. When we do that, we are filled with gratitude and thanksgiving not fear and retaliation.
Can you imagine someone paying off all your debts? Imagine how that would feel! Well, the great news is that Jesus has! And He is with us always. As we celebrate this Rally Day, let us stop and reflect on God’s amazing generosity and grace. In all that we say and do, let us live each day in gratitude like the Psalmist says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless God’s holy name. Bless the Lord, O my Soul, and forget not all God’s benefits.” Amen.