(watch here: https://youtu.be/rAJy_B1YMcg)
15‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. 18Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’
21Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ 22Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
23‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” 29Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. 31When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’
Jesus’ parable reminds me of the one about a man who was standing before a judge in California for shooting a condor. This a protected bird and people who kill them must pay the consequences. The man pleaded with the judge by saying, “I just arrived in this state and I have never seen a bird that large before. I was hungry and couldn’t help myself from shooting and eating it. The judge said, “I forgive you, just don’t let it happen again!” The man replied, ”Yes, sir!” The judge was curious and asked the man, “Well, how did it taste?” The man replied, “Oh, I guess somewhere between a whooping crane and a spotted owl.”
In both the parable and the joke, the one who forgave probably shouldn’t have forgiven after all. But can we ever know just how our forgiveness will be received? Can we know who deserves forgiveness and who doesn’t? Of course not! But is forgiveness simply about helping our neighbor regain a clear conscience? Many would argue that forgiving others ultimately helps ourselves the most. When we forgive others, we free ourselves from dwelling in the past and enable our relationships to have a future. We all have a deep need for relationship with ourselves, God, and our neighbor. We are social beings. We need each other whether we like it or not. And we need God to help us navigate life in this world. When we fail to forgive, we are ultimately hurting our relationships with ourselves and God along with our neighbor. It is difficult to be in right relationship with anyone without forgiveness. Perhaps forgiveness is more about ourselves than anyone else. Perhaps forgiveness is more of a selfish act than we’d like to admit. Regardless, forgiveness is important for bringing us back into right relationship with ourselves, God, and our neighbor.
Our reading for this morning consists of three distinguished parts. In the first part, we are instructed on how to get others to seek forgiveness. Not to condemn them for their sins but rather to free them from the burden of their sin. We all sin–sometimes against ourselves, sometimes against God, and sometimes against our neighbors. More often than not we don’t realize we’re sinning against anyone. We’re just going about our lives trying to do our best and bringing God glory through our lives. We certainly don’t mean to hurt our relationships with anyone, ourselves include. But a sin is a sin and it is a destructive force of death. Sin pulls us away from God and the life of God. Sin tears down relationships instead of building them up. Only God can build and nurture relationships. It is God working through us that keeps us in relationship…in right relationship. When we confront sin by ourselves or with the support of others, we are helping reclaim their own right relationships.
In the second part of our reading we are taught how to give forgiveness. Some of us believe that there is a limit to the forgiveness we can give each other. But Jesus boldly counters this belief: ‘Not seven times but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.’ Now does that mean we are to count out 77 times we forgive others? Of course not! No, Jesus simply chose a random number that was relatively high to convey the endlessness of our forgiving. We are to never stop forgiving. We are to never stop loving ourselves, God, and our neighbors. We are to never stop showing mercy and compassion. After all, this is exactly how God forgives: without end! We ought to heed the wisdom of Luke which says, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”(6:36) God’s mercy is never-ending. We boldly cry out with David’s words, “For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.” (Psalm 86:5) God’s love and mercy is abundant for those who seek him.
The parable of our reading empowers us to approach God and seek his mercy. We all carry an unpayable debt to our God. Our sin is just as amazing as a ten-thousand talent debt was for a 1st century Israeli. And yet our God is also eager to forgive us our debt. We must simply come to him and ask him for forgiveness. God is eager to forgive but only for those who ask. The book of Hebrews encourages us, “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”(4:16) We can go to that throne but God expects us to share his mercy with each other. We can’t take without sharing. Earlier in Matthew, we hear Jesus teach, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”(6:14) God expects and rewards us for showing mercy on each other.
All three parts of our reading help us better understand the importance of forgiveness. Forgiveness brings us in right relationship with God, ourselves, and each other. Once forgiven, we can move on in our relationships and further grow in them. Let us seek to forgive and help others seek forgiveness as well. Relationships are far too important to be destroyed by an unwillingness to forgive. When we forgive, let us also strive to forget and move on in our relationships. God not only forgives but He also forgets. To illustrate this, I’ll leave you with a final story. It’s about a priest in the Philippines who carried the burden of a secret sin he had committed many years before. He had repented but still had no sense of God’s forgiveness. In his church was a woman who claimed to have visions in which she spoke with Christ and he with her. The priest however was skeptical. To test her he said, “The next time you speak with Christ, I want you to ask him what sin your priest committed while he was in bible college.” The woman agreed. A few days later the priest asked, “Well, did Christ visit you in your dreams?” “Yes he did,” she replied. “And did you ask him what sin I committed in bible college?” “Yes.” “Well, what did he say?” “He said, ‘I don’t remember.’”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.