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09.14.14 As God Forgives Matthew 18:21-35 Sermon Summary

by on September 15, 2014

If young adults’ perception of the church is accurate, then we are under God’s judgment. What can we do to fix this?

Summary Points

  • A parable about judgment: future or present?
  • Three key perspectives on forgiving others
  • Final comments on welcoming others
  • Questions for discussion or reflection

According to the book Unchristian, young adults—both those who attend church and those who do not—rank “judgmental” as their 2nd highest impression (“anti-homosexual” is #1). This despite Jesus’ specific teaching, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2)

The parable of the unforgiving slave is a memorable one if not the most comforting. A king wanting to settle accounts with his slaves calls one in who owes him 10,000 talents, that is 150,000 years of wages for a laborer. Obviously the slave cannot pay it, so the king will settle for whatever amount the sale of the slave and his family will garner. The slave pleads for mercy and the king forgives the entirety of the debt—no sale! As he is departing, the slave encounters another slave who owes him 100 denarii, or 100 days of wages. When the second slave pleads for mercy, the first slave refuses and has him thrown into jail.

When the king finds out, he reinstates the first slave’s debt and has him thrown into prison. “And so,” Jesus concludes, “my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you if you don’t forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Is this a parable about the final judgment in the afterlife? Is this really what God is like? God knows better than anyone how difficult it is to forgive. Will God send us to hell for not forgiving someone? Doesn’t it matter how grievous the offense was?

Forgiveness is a path; it’s a journey. Sometimes the journey is a short one—if the offense is small, if the relationship is solid, if we’re in a good place spiritually. And sometimes the journey is a long one—if the offense is traumatic, if the relationship is weak, if we don’t have the spiritual resources.

Obviously Jesus wants us to forgive one another. I think the threat of divine judgment has more to do with experiencing God’s forgiveness in this life—whether we truly understand God’s forgiveness determines whether we forgive others. And since Jesus appears to assume that we can forgive others, let’s find the resources by which to do it.

Here’s what the lectionary passages today teach us about forgiveness.

The first step in forgiving others is to recognize that God and only God is qualified to judge. When the king finds out the first slave judged the second one, he intervened and reasserted his sole authority to judge. The parable depicts the king’s absolute authority. Likewise, Paul asks the factious groups in Rome, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?” Both the vegetarian and the Sabbath keeper are servants of the same God who is God over the meat-eaters and the non-Sabbath keepers.

Later Paul reminds them that, “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” To deny God the sole place of judging is to deny that Christ is Lord.

Joseph had learned this. When his brothers came to him in fear, pressuring him to forgive them, he responds, “Do not be afraid; am I in the place of God?” Joseph was free to forgive his brothers because he had learned to trust God to be just.

So when Peter asks how many times we are required to forgive others, Jesus answers every time. The fastest path to forgiveness is not to judge in the first place. So the first step in the journey of forgiveness is to recognize that God alone can judge.

A second step is to recognize we’re all in the same boat. The king reinstates his judgment out of shock that the first slave does not forgive the relatively minuscule debt of another slave. The first slave forgets that they’re both debtors who require forgiveness. Likewise Paul says that, “We all stand before the judgment seat of God.” In other words, the vegetarian and the meat-lover both fall short of being who God wants us to be. We can all be more faithful in SOME way.

Whether we owe 10K talents or 100 denarii, we’re all in the same boat. So the second step is to make forgiving others easier by starting with compassion.

A third helpful step follows naturally, and it is to focus on our own situation. Had the first slave taken time to be grateful, had he wondered in gratitude over the grace he had just received, there’s no way he could have judged his fellow slave.

Likewise Joseph, throughout his ordeal, practiced gratitude, focused on his vocation, and thus became a forgiving person. His brothers did not practice gratitude, and they became anxious about being judged. Gratitude paves the path of forgiveness. Paul says the vegetarians and the meat-lovers “honor God” because “they give thanks to God. Only,” Paul continues, “let all be fully convinced in their own minds.” In other words, work on your own issues.

Paul starts the chapter by telling the Roman churches to welcome people of different opinions, but not for the purpose of quarrelling with them. We’re not to welcome people as a bait-and-switch technique to try to change them. We welcome people because they are brothers and sisters in Christ.

This is helpful as we think about those people we would quarrel with, judge, exclude, or change. Instead, we should be grateful that they are here, because God has welcomed them. And if God has welcomed them, even those whom we would judge, then we can be assured God has welcomed us.

Let us remember that the king in the parable wants to forgive the slave. He calls in the slaves in order to settle accounts. He’s willing settle for much less, even to forgive the debt entirely. How much more, when we actually ask for mercy, is God, like the king, likely to be merciful?

So let’s leave the judging to God, have compassion for our fellow sinners, work on our own faithfulness, and welcome all whom God has called.

Questions for Discussion or Reflection

  • In Matthew 6:14 Jesus says, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” How do you interpret this? How do you apply this? How does it relate to this sermon?
  • This message recognizes a close relationship among forgiveness, judgment, and welcoming others. How do you see these dynamics at work in the church? What do you think about the impression of young adults that the church is judgmental?
  • What affect would concentrating on the three steps (trusting judgment to God alone, seeing yourself in the same boat, focusing on your own calling) have on your attitude towards others? What effect would it have on your own emotional and spiritual well-being?
  • What is the relationship between your inability or unwillingness to forgive someone and your experience of God’s forgiveness in your life now? Do you think God’s forgiveness is dependent upon yours?
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