Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
Bible Background This week begins our first full week of the season of Lent. During the season of Lent we will be looking at the parables of Jesus through the lens of the Gospel of Matthew. We are calling our series, “Sneaky Stories.” Each week we will be looking at the stories that Jesus tells us to get in under our skin. Parables allow us to see every day scenarios in a different light. They are amazing in that they open up to us in different ways every time we hear or read them. These are stories meant to be heard and meant for us to place ourselves within them. Often the stories don’t have the answer we thought might be. They are left to us to fill in the blanks. Some of them have answers at the end that lead us to other conclusions. They seem into our brains so that we think about them over and over again. They are so familiar at times that when they pop up in our brains again, we see something different. Parables are also prime for oral traditions. Many of us could recite them in our sleep which makes them such a wonderful tool.
Today’s parable is to illustrate Jesus’ point about forgiveness. Jesus uses the device of the parable and storytelling to reiterate a point that the disciples just aren’t getting. Jesus starts off by giving us a process of how to deal with conflict and forgiveness. The most important piece? The most biblical piece? We must have the conversation with one another. If that doesn’t work, bring in other ears. If that still doesn’t work, our community becomes key.
Peter doesn’t get it. But how many times do we have to do this? Jesus comes up with new math. The numbers before us to answer Peter are too many to even count. They are beyond what we might imagine. Forgiveness is not quantifiable. It would be ridiculous to even try. This is about changing a way of life, much like the season gives us time to transform.
What? Ok, here is a story. Here is a story using characters from who we might see in the everyday context. For Jesus this is a king and a servant. The numbers are hard to imagine. The Message version uses a context that we can relate to a little more. Thousands of dollars are looked over and yet the servant doesn’t learn from this example. The servant does not forgive other debtors. The process is not followed for the servant and the end is not good. We must forgive for if we don’t, our heart grows in resentment. Without forgiveness, we are not whole. Without forgiveness, the relationship is broken between neighbor and God. Forgiveness is a different way of life. It is worth much more than the thousands of dollars forgiven.
What a perfect way to begin a season where we look towards reconciliation. Lent is about repenting of those places where we have broken away. Lent is about returning to wholeness only available to us if we forgive (which is not to be confused with ignoring wrong, or excusing the pain or unjust, or tolerating abuse). But when we face our brother and sister, we also face our own brokenness and sin. We realize that we rely on God’s grace during this time. Lent is about identifying those places that we ask God to help us to forgive as we face them head on.
Quotes of the week
“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” ―Martin Luther King Jr.
“Listen. Slide the weight from your shoulders and move forward. You are afraid you might forget, but you never will. You will forgive and remember.” ― Barbara Kingsolver
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”― Mark Twain
“Forgiveness means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back.” ― Anne Lamott
Matthew 18:15-35 (Message) “If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.
“Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this. When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.”
At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?” Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.
“The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market.
“The poor wretch threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.
“The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’
“The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ But he wouldn’t do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king.
“The king summoned the man and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’ The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.”
Questions for the Week
Where is it hardest for you to forgive? What is your process?
In the parable there is a king and a servant. This is hard for us to connect with unless we think in terms of authority and the employee. Who would this be in your modern day parable?
How does forgiveness play into our Lenten journey?