Trinity 22 T Matthew 18:21-35
To forgive is to be Christian.
Without forgiveness, one can’t be Christian.
Human nature wants to limit forgiveness –
I’ll forgive seven times, but I can’t be burnt after that.
But God’s forgiveness is boundless and free.
Christians are called to be salt and light –
That is, our conduct is distinct from the rest of the world.
In today’s parable, we observe unchristian conduct with the unforgiving servant.
By this example, our Lord teaches this:
If we’re forgiven, we’re to forgive.
The hardened heart in the parable is easy to see.
He was forgiven a great debt,
But he wasn’t changed by the mercy he received.
Jesus teaches His people how to be different from the world:
We’re to be gracious and forgiving to others,
Because we’ve been shown eternal grace and forgiveness.
The text shows us the order of forgiveness:
We cannot possibly have the strength to forgive others if we aren’t ourselves forgiven.
So, we receive forgiveness from God comes first,
And then we’re able to forgive others.
But what if we receive forgiveness from God here in the Divine Service,
And withhold forgiveness from our neighbor out in the world?
Is it possible for Christian conduct to do such a thing?
The text warns us what that sort of hardness and coldness warrants.
If you don’t forgive, then don’t think God forgives you.
We love to hear God’s Words “I forgive your sins”, “take, eat, this is my body.”
Because God’s promises of forgiveness are attached to these words!
Yet we hate to hear God’s Words of warning, admonition, and instruction –
Like the one at the end of our Gospel reading – “so also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you don’t forgive your brother from your heart.”
That is to say, God will hold our sins against us,
if we hold the sins of others against them.
But Pastor, what if someone keeps sinning against me?
At what point does forgiveness lead to enabling sin?
Such a question is the same question Peter asks –
“how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?”
Sinful man wants limits on forgiveness.
It hates that forgiveness is full and free,
not earned after a series of proving ones’ contrition.
We take pleasure in receiving such love, but hate to give it.
In the Large Catechism on the 5th petition of the Creed,
Luther writes – “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, “I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
What if someone in your family – say your kid, spouse, parent – sinned against you 7 times in a day? Or 7 times in an hour?
Your usual reaction may be to lash out in anger.
Now quick sidetrack – discipline for kids may be necessary.
But discipline is never exercised from a place of anger,
trying to get a child to bend to your will.
Instead, discipline is done out of love and meant for teaching.
It’s much like how the Lord disciplines us – full of love, and meant for teaching.
Maybe you bottle up anger when you’re sinned against,
and it leads to resentment –
It leads you to avoid them and
You’ve effectively separated yourself from hearing their confession,
Or even worse, maybe they’d think you don’t care about them.
But what’s expected when sinned against?
Constantly, freely, and without calculation.
No bribery by scheming what you can get in return.
Robert Barron is a Catholic Bishop who has some practical, pastoral advice on being a better forgiver.
First, keep your own sins frequently before your mind’s eye.
It serves as a reminder of God’s even greater measure of grace to you.
Second, go to confession more regularly.
Let God get rid of the plank in your eye before getting the speck out of your brothers’.
Third, forgive offenses quickly.
Don’t give them time to settle deeply into your psyche; seek reconciliation right away.
Fourth, forgive through a concrete act or sign.
Write a note, make a phone call, give a gift, offer your own presence.
This is to say, forgiveness shouldn’t be an “understood” thing,
But forgiveness should be manifested through something.
Forgiveness should always be a Christian’s first move.
But if forgiveness towards someone is done out of obligation,
And not out of the mercy that’s first been shown to us,
Then forgiveness is never full and complete.
It runs the risk of forgiving in the moment,
But keeping a record of the wrongdoing to be brought up at an advantageous moment.
So, when we forgive, we should seek to forgive fully.
To steadfastly refuse to forgive, or to hold a “forgiven” sin against someone at a latter time is unjust and wicked.
One filled with such refusal to forgive is a life where faith in Jesus – if it exists – will die.
Full forgiveness includes reconciliation in some sense.
A strong example of full forgiveness in Scripture is Joseph and his brothers.
Joseph’s brothers planned to kill him out of jealousy,
but rather sold him to slavery in Egypt.
They lied and told Jacob that he was killed by an animal.
Years passed by, and God raised Joseph to be a high ranking official in Egypt.
Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt, specifically to Joseph, for food in a time of famine.
If your siblings literally tried to kill you, and then sold you into slavery,
Would you ever forgive them?
And if you did, wouldn’t you still distance yourself from them?
Or would you hug them when you saw them?
That’s what Joseph did.
He hugged and kissed his brothers who tried to kill him.
That’s an example of forgiveness for which we should strive.
This forgiveness is limitless, filled with mercy, quick, and let’s go of sin.
This forgiveness forgoes rage and revenge against the offending person,
And asks the Lord to bless and preserve them according to His will.
The relationship between Joseph and his family was reconciled,
And Joseph even invited them to stay in Egypt, where he could care for them.
Such forgiveness is unfathomable to corrupted natural man.
Cries for justice would commence from the world.
But Christians are different.
They’re salt and light – filled with mercy, benevolence, and love.
God’s forgiveness is similar.
Jesus sought to forgive those who tortured and crucified him,
saying “Lord, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
That’s what’s unfathomable about the forgiveness received in Christ.
Forgiveness from God is completely free and unearned.
It’s like we’ve been forgiven 10,000 talents.
There’s no amount of restitution or good works we could do to show the sincerity of our sorrow and repentance.
There’s no amount of praise that could satisfy God’s wrath on sin.
There’s only Jesus –
The once and for all sacrifice for the sins of the world.
His sacrifice makes God’s limitless forgiveness possible.
Only in the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world is God’s wrath on sin given satisfaction, and the eternal debt paid.
We can’t do anything to repay God for his mercy and love shown to us.
All we can do is say “Thank you”.
In our thanksgiving to God contains humility to His mercy.
And in that humility is faith, where we trust in God as the ultimate forgiver.
By His grace, He calls us to follow Him.
And to be a follower of Him means forgiving others as He forgave us.
It’s not optional, because holding grudges and unforgiveness is living not in obedience to Christ’s own forgiveness,
But its living in obedience to unforgiving passions and emotions located in the hardness of one’s heart.
It’s easy to be hardened to forgiveness and love.
But to be impenetrable to such divine gifts is the way of the world,
Not the way for God’s people.
How can we be empowered to forgive in a limitless way?
The text that warns us about an unforgiving heart,
Also shows us how to receive a forgiving heart.
Only by God’s forgiveness can we be empowered to forgive others,
because it shows the context of truth and reality.
Only by being forgiven of an eternal debt by Christ,
Can our perspective truly see that the debts and grudges that we hold against each other is simply cruel and unjust.
When we look at the parable,
It’s easy to judge the unforgiving servant as unworthy of the forgiveness given him.
Any man demanding repayment of a hundred denarii from his neighbor after being forgiven 10,000 talents makes it clear the man was heartless.
It’s clear that he didn’t deserve the mercy he got,
And the mercy shown to him by the master was withdrawn.
But it’s harder to judge when the perspective changes and the spotlight is put on us.
It’s easier to justify grudges and hold the debts of others before our hearts,
Because the emotions and pride we hold onto in our lives clouds the walk we’re called to engage in as Christians.
All the time we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
You’ve been forgiven an unpayable debt,
And that changes the way we act towards those who’ve wrong us.
How could we possible hold temporal grudges that affect us eternally?
We’ve been forgiven a much greater eternal debt,
That gives way to a conduct of eternal mercy and love.
May this generosity change you towards love.