Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Messiah Lutheran Church
Trinity 22 (November 8, 2009)
Matthew 18: 21-35
For an audio mp3 of this sermon, Trinity22-2009
TITLE: “Forgiveness without Calculation”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text is the Gospel lesson just read, the parable of the unmerciful servant.
Forgiveness without calculation, that’s the goal. That’s what God does. To forgive someone their sins means to not count it against them. To forgive means to forget, for they go together. It means the wipe the slate clean. It means to delete the spreadsheet, eliminate the debt calculator. It means to lose your memory that such an event ever happened. Forgiveness means starting over.
If you’ve ever been forgiven of a big debt, you know what kind of a feeling I’m talking about. There’s a sense of unreality about it. It’s too good to be true. You keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. Now of course, debts don’t just involve money. You can owe a debt to your wife or husband or mom or dad or children that goes far beyond anything you could ever pay. It is possible to mess up so badly that I don’t believe that forgiveness is even possible because I’m such a terrible person. But sometimes our spouse surprises us. Sometimes your mom or dad forgive you far more than you ever would have imagined. Sometimes things really are better after you confess and receive absolution.
But why don’t we ever expect that kind of forgiveness? The answer to that is easy. We do not forgive by nature. Oh I suppose that by nature we forgive at some level, but in one hidden part of our minds we keep a running total, just in case. We are by nature more concerned about protecting ourselves than about forgiving. That means when I forgive, what I really mean is that I will wait until just the right time to bring this back up, and then POW! Right in the kisser. I will forgive, but I will never forget.
You know this is wrong. We pray it every time we pray the Lord’s prayer:
The Fifth Petition
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
What does this mean?
We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.
So this is the situation in which Peter comes up to Jesus and asks the question, “how many times should I forgive? Seven times?” You have to admit that forgiving someone 7 times sounds like a lot. Yet Jesus’ response makes it sound like this is nothing! No, Jesus says. I say to you seventy times seven. Well, 490 is a nearly impossible number to wrap your brain around. Can you imagine forgiving your spouse for the same infraction 490 times in a row? Can you imagine forgiving your parents for their impatience 490 times? It is hard to imagine. This is why the old saying is true, to err is human, but to forgive is divine. That kind of forgiveness just seems impossible for us to grasp.
Now to demonstrate the near impossibility of our situation, Jesus tells a parable about the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven, he says, is like a banker that decides to settle up all his accounts. He calls in one small businessman, who owes him about 500 billion dollars. That kind of debt really takes a government to rack up, but that’s what this man owes. It’s hard to imagine that kind of debt. Yet, there it is. The banker is ready to throw him in jail for defaulting on his loans, but the man says to him, “just give me a chance! I’ll come up with a really creative way to pay you back this 500 billion dollars I owe you! Give me more time!” How much time does the man need? There is just no way this little guy is going to pay the banker back. It’s impossible. But the banker then does something un-bankerish: he simply erases the man’s debts. Wipes them out. Gone.
This, of course, is you. The debt you owe to God is far beyond anything you could possibly repay, even if you wanted to. But God, in His mercy, simply forgives the debt. Okay, there’s nothing really simple about it. He takes your debt and puts it on His Son, Jesus. That’s the Gospel, dear friends.
Now back to our parable. So this man, who has gotten a new lease on life by having this massive debt repaid, sees a colleague. This colleague owes him fifty bucks. What should the man do? He is in his rights to demand the money. But this isn’t so much about rights as it is about doing what is right. What is right is to think of the context. The context is that he has been forgiven so much, this fifty bucks is hardly even worth his notice. But what does he do? He throws the guy in jail for not paying him back. Ouch. Talk about not thinking about the context. He demonstrates by his actions that he learned nothing from the bankers generosity.
Now here’s the kicker. The kicker is that this isn’t about a banker and a small businessman at all. It’s about you and God. God has forgiven you all your sins, a debt far beyond anything that anyone could possibly have done against you. What God wants you to do is to forgive your neighbor when he sins against you. All the time, every time. He wants you to forgive them even if they don’t deserve it, which they don’t. He wants you to forgive them, period. He wants you to never hold a grudge, to forget, to put these wounds against you behind you completely. Forgiveness without calculation, that’s what God wants.
But you don’t, do you? No. You hold on. You cling to these sins done against you like they are your very own. And by clinging to these sins, these debts done against you, you actually make it so that God can’t get through. You make it so that God’s forgiveness is dimmed in your own life.
But there is hope, dearly beloved, dearly Baptized. You see, God is not a one stop shop. God not only forgives you once. He does it over and over and over again. He forgives when you cannot. He forgave you in your Baptism, and He continues to forgive you every day of your life. His riches and mercy know no bounds. Absolution, preaching, the Word of God, prayer centered in the Scriptures, and chiefly the Lord’s Supper, through all of these wonderful means, God forgives. He starts over again and again.
God’s mercy goes beyond all bounds. So forgive! Forget! And be at peace, for God has wiped it all away for you, and for those who have sinned against you. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith, unto life everlasting. Amen.