The 15th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 19A (9/17/2017)

Genesis 50:15-21
Psalm 103: [1-7) 8-13
Romans 14:1-12
St. Matthew 18:21-35

Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm:
Exodus 14:19-31
Psalm 114
or Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21

Prayer of the Day:
O Lord God, merciful judge, you are the inexhaustible fountain of forgiveness. Replace our hearts of stone with hearts that love and adore you, that we may delight in doing your will, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.


18.21 Then 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?” 22 Jesus 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. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, 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. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But 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.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

St. Matthew 18:21-35, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

An Exorbitant Amount

All things in moderation. That’s what I learned in my childhood years. Midwest culture, at least in the 1960s and 1970s, appreciated this humble, understated ethic. And it applied to everything from the bad (coveting, partying, swearing, cheating, gossiping…) to the good (frugality, entertainment, generosity, politics, religion…). The bad couldn’t hurt you all that much, as long as you kept in check. The good could become problematic if you became overly obsessed with it. All things in moderation.

In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus blows this notion out of the water. It follows last week’s passage, where forgiveness and reconciliation are held up as core values for Christian community. This week Peter tests the waters, asking Jesus how committed he needs to be. Current practice challenged the faithful to be bold in forgiving — extending the offer as many as seven times when the harm was caused by a brother or sister in faith. Peter asks, in effect, if this is what Jesus means. True to form, Jesus walks Peter away from a faith practice built on minimum standards (“You must forgive at least seven times.”), and towards one that will expand his vision of the Kingdom of God. “Not seven times,” Jesus says, “but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” The Greek behind this phrase is a bit vague. Scholars have debated whether ἑβδομηκοντάκις ἑπτά (in English, “seventy seven”) means 77 or 70 times 7. So much for moderation!

The truth is: for Christians, forgiveness is not a deliverable, commanded by Christ, and practiced reasonably (for us former MidWesterners, read “in moderation”). It is, instead, a way of life — a way of honoring the One who has forgiven each of us completely and absolutely. We don’t practice forgiveness when it seems convenient or practical or effective. We live forgiveness. It is what it means to be a follower of Jesus. And whether we have sought to forgive a brother or sister six times, or seventy-six times, or 489 times, we are called to remember that we are still followers of Jesus. Still recipients of his amazing grace. Still beneficiaries of his unlimited commitment to forgiveness. Still called to share with others what has first been shared with us.

In case Peter doesn’t get it (or in case we don’t…), Jesus follows this declaration with the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. A slave has somehow come to owe his master an exorbitant amount of money. 10,000 talents, Jesus says. The talent was the largest unit of currency in those days, equal to 6,000 days of wages for a mercenary soldier. Just to be clear: 10,000 talents; 60 million days worth of salary; 192,000 years of six-day weeks with no vacation. An exorbitant amount! Upon being forgiven this entire debt (and, in effect, receiving his life back again), this slave throws a fellow slave in prison for not paying a 100 denarii (three months of pay) debt. His offense: receiving great forgiveness, but not allowing it to influence the way he treats his neighbor.

Forgiven people forgive. Graced people extend grace. Loved people reach out in love. This is the life of a Jesus-follower. As God has loved us, let us love one another.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What must have caused the unforgiving servant to abstain from forgiving?
  2. Why does Jesus depict the King as being so infuriated?
  3. What might Simon Peter have concluded from this parable?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How would I respond if someone forgave me an extraordinarily large debt?
  2. How does this story help me understand better what God has done for me?
  3. With whom will I share the kind of love, grace and forgiveness I myself have received?