Trinity 22 – Matthew 18:21-35

Nothing is more difficult as to forgive someone who has insulted you. The proud, hard heart cannot easily bring itself to put mercy before justice. As the prophet Hosea puts it: I desire mercy and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. You believe an offender should really feel how the insult has hurt you, even if he or she is a family member. You show them no compassion and no patience. You let them sweat it out for a while, maybe for the rest of your life. You’ll take it to the grave. You have something to lord over them. To hell with them!

To hell with you when you will not forgive as you are forgiven. You are the guilty servant in Jesus’ parable. You owe the Lord more than ten thousand talents, an amount of money that can never be paid back in your lifetime. If God were to call in our debt, He soon finds that you often transgress all God’s commandments in thought, word, and deed. You won’t do what’s given you to do in your stations in life. You have offended God from the day of your birth up to this moment. You deserve His wrath and everlasting condemnation.

God does give you frequent glimpses of how large your debt is when He holds up His Law against you. He lets your conscience sweat it out for a while. His wrath and judgment literally scares the hell out of you. What is your debt of ten thousand talents compared to one hundred denarii your neighbor owes you? Pocket change compared to the awareness of your guilt of sin.

When the servant could not pay the enormous debt, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. One minute the servant was under his master’s thumb. The next minute he was free from debt. There’s no happier feeling than not to owe anyone anything. No mortgage payments, no car payments, and no credit card payments are good things. You’re free from the chain gang of debt.

You’re free from the divine chain gang because of Jesus Christ, Who took on your guilt and the guilt of the whole world and paid for it with His suffering and death. Whoever repents and believes in this Savior is granted forgiveness, life, and salvation. There is no greater grace, no greater love for sinners. How blessed are you that you are released from all sins. You are a partaker of God’s grace in Christ through faith. The love of God fills your heart that you begin not only to love God, but also your neighbor, your offender, and your enemy. Your heart melts with love that you, according to the example of God our Father, are also willing to forgive your debtor.

Should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you? Yes, you should. This parable, along with why Jesus tells this parable, is an explanation of how forgiveness works according to God’s command. The Old Adam in you cannot stand how forgiveness works. You mean I have to forgive my worst enemy? I have to live as if they didn’t insult me? What kind of fool am I to live that way!

It’s not your discretion whether you will or won’t forgive your offenders. You don’t keep track of it because our Father in heaven doesn’t keep track of it. “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” A-ha! There’s my out! Seventy-seven times. Let me get my notepad and start the chicken scratches.

Not so fast. Seventy-seven times before God might last an hour, if even that long. Then what happens? Under your plan, God has to start charging you again. He must stop having mercy on you because you are keeping score. If you want to play by the numbers, you will die by the numbers. The numbers aren’t in your favor. Neither are the Scriptures. If we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.  For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

From these passages it is clear that the forgiveness of sins received in Christ could again be lost through new, willful sinning, through withholding forgiveness from your neighbor, for example. The wicked servant is a clear example. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.

God’s standard default position is to have mercy. He has had mercy on you by sparing you from eternal death in His only-begotten Son’s death and resurrection. Because the Lord has forgiven you, you now forgive as He has forgiven you. You forgive more than seventy times, or even more than 490 times. Forgiveness always lives on your lips, for your lips have received the Body and Blood of Christ that feed you with His forgiveness.

This forgiveness is a complete forgiveness. You wouldn’t be able to live with a partial forgiveness from God Almighty. You would never know where the line of forgiveness and lack of forgiveness is. Your forgiveness, God’s forgiveness, is from the heart. If God had not sent His Son for you, how then would you know His forgiveness? How would you be able to forgive had you not had Jesus Christ Himself go before you to show you true forgiveness? Even on the cross our blessed Lord says, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

You know what you have done. You are sorry for them and want to do better. All your debt is paid in full thanks to the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses you from all sin. What joy it is to live in the blood-bought absolution from the Master Who pays all debts in full for you. What joy it is to forgive those who trespass against you in the same forgiveness Jesus gives you. The Jesus way is the forgiving way. Memories of hurt feelings return, but forgiveness is never forgotten because Jesus remembers your sin no more.

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