What'chew Talkin' 'bout Jesus? Matthew 18:21-35 Sept 14, 2008
During a church service, the Minister asked, "How many of you have forgiven your enemies?" 80% held up their hands. So, the Minister then repeated his question. All responded this time, except one small elderly Lady. "Mrs. Martinez? Are you not willing to forgive your enemies?"
"I don't have any," she replied, smiling sweetly.
"Mrs. Martinez, that is very unusual. How old are you?"
"Ninety-eight," she replied.
"Oh Mrs. Martinez, would you please come down in front & tell us all how a person can live ninety-eight years & not have an enemy in the world?"
The little sweetheart of a lady tottered down the aisle, faced the congregation, and said: "I outlived the witches."
Jesus tells his disciples to forgive, but forgiveness isn’t easy.
Here’s my confession. Years ago, I spent a weekend visiting my old college roommate. He shared a room with three other guys who were away that evening, and I spent the night in one of the empty beds. The next morning the owner of the empty bed shows up and rips the pillow I’m sleeping on out from under my head while I’m sleeping: “Who said you could sleep in my bed?”
an argument ensued…; I’m still carrying that one around with me. Who does that?
It’s hard to forgive, but the idea of it is so very appealing….something just seems so right, so true about it. A child who was abused who grows up and forgives his abuser. A spouse who was cheated on who is able to forgive both his spouse and the other party involved. Leaders like Nelson Mandela, who radically forgave perpetrators of racial violence and discrimination. A holocaust survivor who forgives the Nazis.
Sure it’s awesome when we hear of others who are able to forgive. But this story that Jesus tells is about our own ability to forgive. After hearing this story read, Georgia Ortiz, said bluntly and with conviction: “This passage is awfully intrusive into my life.” Each of us has wounds. Each of us has been hurt; some of the things people have done to us are kind of small things, where we just end up telling ourselves, “you know, just get over it.” But then for a lot of us, we have big, deep and serious wounds, and the worst hurts come from those who are close to us.
In this chapter of Matthew, Jesus is really hitting home on what it means for the Christian community to be a reconciling community. A community that never gives up on one another, but endures with patience and love even in the most difficult relationships. And the huge part, the hardest part, is that when we’re the ones who have been hurt, it’s pretty much up to us to make things right again; that the broken relationship gets mended. It’s kind of like a double whammy.
If someone hurts us, maybe they’ll come and ask for forgiveness, “I’m so sorry.” But until we’re ready to forgive, the relationship can’t be repaired; not completely. And when we can’t forgive, it’s like we’re being tormented.
You caught that part in this passage where the king sends the unforgiving servant to the tormentor. That’s what happens when we hold it in…It’s like swallowing poison hoping that it will kill the one who did us wrong. We may even seek revenge…but we know it really doesn’t make us feel any better.
Jesus keeps feeding this message of forgiveness to his followers: "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy." "Love your enemies." "Pray even for those who persecute you." "Turn the other cheek." “How many times do we have to forgive,” Peter asks, seems a little dubious… he’s got that one person in mind…
and you know who I’m talking about; that person who just knows how to get to you, get under your skin, rub you the wrong way, no it’s more than that…that person you can’t trust because they have wronged you so many times, if you had a nickel for every time they’d sinned against you…What about that person?…
how many times do we forgive that brother or sister? “Seven times! Or “Seven Times? I’d have loved to have seen the look on Jesus’ face. What do you think his expression was? Rolling his eyes, “no, no, no, come on peter: “Not seven times but seventy seven times.” Actually, the greek could be translated 77 times or 70 x 7, which equals 490 times…as if it really matters. The point is that we take on the mind of Christ: forgiving, full of grace, always. Skeptical that Peter or the rest of them really understood how serious this lesson about forgiveness was, Jesus tells a story to bring the point home; and boy does he ever: I’ve already mentioned the part about the tormentor at the end.
So this guy comes before the king and owes him 10,000 talents...that’s only the equivalent of a billion dollars. But he begs forgiveness and the debt is forgiven.
He goes out, and grabs and starts choking another guy that owes him money. Owed him 100 denari… a denari was a typical days wages. So a hundred days worth of labor, a good bit, but nothing compared to what the other guy owed the king. So he’s on top of this guy choking him, Give me my money! Kind of like Dan Akroid and Eddie Murphy in Trading Places: “It was the Dukes! It was the Dukes!”
“Paciencia, have patience, I will pay you.” The exact same words the choker had said to the king, but he’s not even fazed. Throws the guy in jail until he could pay.
So my question when I was meditating on this passage: What happened from the time when the guy was forgiven his huge debt to the time he ran into the first guy who owed him money? What happened in that gap? Did he leave so happy that his debt had been forgiven that he was like, Alright, I’m debt free! Now I’m going to get money from everyone who owes me so I can be rich…choking. Or maybe he felt so guilty about what had happened, that he just couldn’t accept that kind of forgiveness. Instead of feeling free, he felt more uptight and worried about life and his future. So, he beats up this guy out of his own guilt. Or maybe he felt humiliated, his pride couldn’t handle that kind of gift from the king. So to make himself a bigger man he had to pick on the first person he could.
What happens to us in that gap?
We confess our sins weekly at church, maybe even daily we ask, praying down on our knees: “Forgive me, Please, Ten piedad!” Do we believe that God forgives us?
Can we trust it: "As far as the east is from the west, so far does God remove our transgressions from us." What happens after we’ve offered that prayer? Does it register…I forgive you…Maybe later that morning someone we hardly know says some off-handed comment, it may get under our skin but then we think, “Whatever.”
But what happens if it’s someone really close to you…someone you really loved or still love, who runs off and leaves you. Or a respected co-worker, who talks disrespectful to you in front of everyone. A relative who abused you; or a friend who turned on you, and now just ignores you. What happens if it’s someone at church, who betrays you. We may try not to think about it. But it just keeps coming back. Maybe everything is okay and then you see someone or something and it just triggers the memory. Or maybe you haven’t thought about it all day and then when you put our head down on the pillow, it comes, and it replays in your mind over and over and over in your head, and you can’t go to sleep.
Or maybe you eventually fall asleep but then you wake up thinking about it. You can’t go back to sleep and the day has started off terribly. You’re not free.
Your still carrying it around, and it’s almost a part of you. You’re being subjected to torture.
If society tells us anything…we’re supposed to seek revenge when someone does us harm. This past week was the anniversary of the destruction of our most powerful symbols of global commerce. After the fall of the Twin Towers we had the sympathy, the concern, the support of the entire world. Instead of reaching out to Muslim countries with understanding and charity, we now bear the consequences of retaliation:
And for the 3000 dead in the fall of the twin towers at the hands of 19 religious fanatics, we now have nearly 3000 US soldiers killed in military action, more than 26,000 wounded and more than 10,000 permanently disabled. We have thousands of widows and orphans, a constitution at risk, a president and a Congress that voted to allow torture, and national infrastructure in jeopardy because we’ve incurred tremendous debt to support the war. And how many tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis are dead?
And Jesus keeps saying over and over: forgive, Forgive, forgive…how many times? Always. And this is coming from the guy who on the cross said, “Father forgive them.” From the guy who was left out to dry by his disciples…Peter denied even knowing him; and what was one of the first things Jesus did after he was raised from the dead? He went to peter and had communion with him. I forgive you…
We are forgiven sinners…can we forgive others who sin against us? Can we free ourselves from the weight of that pain and bitterness we’re carrying? Could it ever become just instinctive, like a knee jerk reaction? Someone does us harm…and we forgive.
In 2006, in Lancaster County, PN, a milk truck driver, a husband and a father of 3 children, named Charles Roberts entered West Nickel Mines Amish School, a simple one-room, stucco building that sat along a country road in the farm fields, with a shotgun, a handgun, a rifle, 600 rounds of ammunition, two cans of gun powder, a stun gun, two knives, chains, wires and plastic flex ties, and nails and lumber for barricading doors and windows. Without going into devastating details of the account, the police couldn’t stop him before he had killed five girls and critically wounded five others, and then taken his own life.
The response of this community, mostly Amish people, was amazing. On the day of the killings, the families of the victims sent words of comfort to Robert’s wife and asked that she not consider leaving her home in that area. A resident said a few days later: “I don’t think there’s anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts.”
A neighbor, went to see Roberts’ father and “stood there for an hour, he held him in his arms, and he said, “We will forgive you.” Many Amish attended the funeral of Roberts, and Robert’s wife was invited to attend the funerals of the victims.
What is it about this “ability to forgive: that many found so moving? “It’s not a denial of evil, individual responsibility, or justice. Instead according to Amish belief, justice is God’s alone, not ours to question or force.”
In the gap between God’s forgiveness and this horrible act, it seems the people of Lancaster County didn’t even consider the possibilities of potential responses.
There was only one: forgive. “to make a conscious choice to be unbound by evil.”
A grandfather of two of the little girls who were killed was asked: “Is there anger towards the gunman’s family?”
NO, said the grandfather.
“Have you forgiven?”
“In my heart, yes.”
“How is that possible? “Through God’s help.”
Through God’s help.
We may not be able to stop the terrible things that happen to us,
but I believe Jesus teaches that through forgiveness we can imaginatively live in an alternative reality to a world that would tell us to just hold it in and swallow that bitter pill or to seek after the one who owes us and choke ’em. I forgive you.
I don’t know what experiences you’ve had. Maybe your at a point in which you simply cannot forgive, I’ve been there. All I could do was acknowledge my need to forgive and pray to God that the time would come when I could forgive. And finally it did come… months later, I was walking along, and suddenly, I had forgiven. This huge weight was lifted…it was almost as if the Holy spirit came into my being and took that terrible weight I had been carrying around and flew off with it. I wept, I shouted for joy. It was a miracle. I had been healed.
Maybe this morning, while we have the healing service, you have something you just can’t let go of. Someone has done you wrong…and it is eating you up. Please take the time to pray for this during this time. Come forward and have your brothers and sisters pray with you.
My prayer for all of us is when we find ourselves in that gap between receiving and accepting God’s love and mercy, and coming across someone who has done us harm, may God grant to each of us the grace to allow at least the seed of forgiveness to take root in our hearts. May God’s love, healing, and reconciling allow us to be the forgiving community that Jesus calls us to be. Amen.
2. Rob Bell, “Nooma 007 Luggage”
4. Rob Bell, Nooma 007 Luggage.
5. Julia Spicher Kasdorf, “To Pasture,” Cross Currents, Fall 2007.
6. Julia Spicher Kasdorf, “To Pasture,” Cross Currents, Fall 2007.
7. Julia Spicher Kasdorf, “To Pasture,” Cross Currents, Fall 2007.
8. Joanna Adams, Sermon on Matthew 18:21-35: podcast on Day 1.
9. Julia Spicher Kasdorf, “To Pasture,” Cross Currents, Fall 2007.