22. October 2012
Sunday of the Unmerciful Servant
We have a forgiveness problem. We don’t know what it is nor why we practice it. We say “it’s okay” and look the other way. We turn the other cheek while secretly holding the grudge. We hold our neighbor’s debts against us over his head. We overlook our sins and the sins of others when they should be confessed and forgiven. This whole messy situation is supposed to be cleaned up with Christ’s own blood but we’d rather wallow in it.
We’re just like St. Peter. Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. No doubt. Forgiveness is tough. They are hard works to say. When someone hurts you repeatedly with what they say and do, do you keep forgiving them? Maybe you forget about it once or twice… perhaps even three times. But seven times? We’d rather tell our neighbor to buzz off than keep suffering their repeat offenses. Forgiveness? That only goes so far.
Not with Jesus. Seven times? No, seventy times seven. That’s 490 for all you math wizards. What’s Jesus saying. Christians suffer. They suffer others sins. They keep suffering when their neighbor and even brother keeps sinning against them. 490 times? That’s a lifetime of sin to suffer. Jesus is saying we suffer with our spouses’s sins against us until the death parts us. We suffer our children’s offenses until Christ comes again. We suffer our neighbor’s curses and threats forever. 490 times is an eternity of sin to suffer.
Ah, but notice one thing is still missing. Jesus isn’t just telling us to suffer. He’s telling us to do the harder thing: forgive them. Not just in your heart but verbally—out loud. Forgiveness is humiliating. It requires you to move from the position of power to weakness. It requires us to repent and become like a child. Our righteous outrage at our neighbor’s sin has to be set aside and instead forgive them. Say it: “I forgive you.” Let’s practice. Say it after me: “I forgive you.” Sounds different than “it’s okay,” right? It doesn’t just sound different but it feels different. It requires the hatred, resentment, and despising of your neighbor to be crucified and die.
It is sin that keeps us from saying those hard words. Sin is our fleshly condition and inescapable. We are sinner, watch us sin. There’s no human way to overcome our disease. We can only treat the symptoms and then pretty ineffectively. We need is a cure that’s permanent and lasting not little bandaids for all our little problems. Jesus told Nicodemus we must be born again of water and the Spirit. This is God’s solution to our problem. He’s not content simply putting patches on trespasses or debts. He wants to cure us, once and for all. He has in Holy Baptism. He drowned your old Adam to death and gave to you new life in Jesus’s blood.
That’s what forgiveness is all about. Being washed clean in Christ. Your sins no longer cling to you. They are forgiven! Even death is destroyed and there is new life for you in Jesus! A washing of rebirth and regeneration began this work in you. Christ’s own body and blood nourishes you as He keeps you in this truth. The words “I forgive you your sins” keep you clean by the same Word that made you.
The life of the Baptized is in Christ and Christ in him. Therefore, if you brother sins against you do not hold this sin against them. Go and tell them their fault. If they will not listen, take another brother. If he still will not listen, bring the church. If he will not hear of his fault then this sin is bound to him until he repents.
Ever tried to do this? Its hard stuff for the old Adam. No one wants to reveal another’s sin. It usually exposes our own faults, abuses, and wickedness. Plus, we think nothing good will come of it. It’d be much better to look the other way, to all just get along, to pat them on the back and say “it’s okay.” It’s far easier to let them remain in their sin than to tell them about it. That’s the same thing we’d want. Sinners love their sin and why should it be any different for them?
No, not for those in Christ Jesus! The Christian has come to hate their sin and their sinful disease. They hate it because they have come to love their savior. Jesus gave them new life in His life and are made holy and righteous by His blood. They now hate sin and love forgiveness in Jesus.
Therefore you do not only tell their brother their sin (the Law) but they all the more tell them of Christ’s forgiveness (Gospel). Without speaking the Word of forgiveness, the sinner cannot leave his sinful ways. There is now power in exposing your brother’s faults unless you also bring them into the glorious light of Christ’s forgiveness.
Remember, we’re just like St. Peter. Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
Why should we forgive our neighbor to the 490th degree? By the Word of forgiveness in Jesus they are given the only remedy to their sin. When you forgive your brother, they are getting Jesus. And where there is Jesus forgiving, there is life and there is eternal salvation.
Saying those words: “I forgive you” to your children, your spouse, your parents, your pastor, your co-worker, your boss, your legislator, indeed all your neighbors is the most evangelical thing you can do. It’s the kind of thing only a Christian can do. It’s the best way to confess who you are in Jesus and what He has done for you. It’s one sinner administering the cure to another sinner just as Christ forgave them.
We are the servants of our Lord and God in the kingdom of heaven. By our sin, we owe our heavenly Father a great debt beyond what we could ever pay, Jesus describes laughably as something like 10,000 x 20 years wages. Yet, in his loving mercy for the sake of His Son Jesus, all this debt is paid. He placed our debts upon Jesus. Christ suffered and died in place of us, as our substitute. This is God the Father’s great compassion! And by this mercy we are released, freed, and forgiven of it all. We are forgiven to live with Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
The servant in Jesus’ comparison is wicked. He received mercy beyond comparison yet cannot forgive his fellow servant a small debt. This forgiven servant comes to his fellow servant who owes him a mere three months labor not 10,000 times 20 years. Having received great mercy, what does he show to his fellow servant? He throttles him and demands repayment. The fellow servant pleads for mercy with the exact same words as before. But the forgiven servant refuses to forgive. He takes the blessings he received from his king and hordes them for himself.
What he received as a blessing becomes a curse. His debt was forgiven but having refused to forgiven, it is once again imputed to him. So also for us. The forgiveness so freely given to us in Jesus is turned to a curse if we refuse to forgive others.
Thus, we pray each day “…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We forgive our brothers because we have been forgiven our every sin. We forgive them to give them Jesus. In the forgiveness given by each of you, your fellow servant and neighbor learns of Christ’s forgiveness. O Lord, how great is your compassion! Give to us hearts that so forgive others. Let us have compassion on each other, showing mercy, and saying “I forgive you” until the end.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church