the unmerciful servant & forgiveness.

God be with you

So we are entering into our fall sermon series where we’re exploring the parables of Jesus.
We’ve called it ‘ReWired’ because it taps into an important truth about the very nature of the faith and our spirituality Jesus:

it’s more about how you live than what you believe.

What we’re doing here together,
what Christ invites us into,
its about a particular way of being human and alive in the world,
a way and life thats connected with God, each other, and with ourselves,
a way that’s caught up in those divine rhythms of justice, love, mercy, and kindness.

And parables,
those little stories with big points,
those strange stories that Jesus always told,
they are ways for us to find our groove;
they pull us deeper into the wisdom and truth of that way and world;
they disrupt old patterns and begin new ones,
they block off old roads and open up new ones,
they rewire how we think and move,
helping transform us into new kinds of people building a new kind of world.

Are you with me?

And the plan for the fall is to spend some time with those parables,
entering into each one openly and boldly,
with the hope we’ll come out the other side, maybe a little shaken up and challenged, but having found an answer to that question of:

“what does it mean to be human and alive in this world?”

//

And because this week we observed the International Day of Peace,
and because peace,
what our tradition calls shalom,
this peace with God,
peace with each other,
and peace with ourselves,
is at the very heart of our faith and spirituality,
I thought we’d take some time today to rumble with a parable that takes us into a very important intersection that we all, no doubt, struggle to navigate,
an intersection that when we learn to navigate it well,
can not only transform our lived reality,
but reshape our entire universe.

And that would be that intersection of forgiveness.

Anyone had to navigate that before?

Its hard, isn’t it?

You’ve got the transport trucks of anger and revenge just flying through there, trying to take everyone out.
You’ve got the old beaten up jalopy of shame and guilt blocking the lane, not going anywhere.
You’ve got the police car of religious conviction there directing traffic, desperately trying to direct traffic.
And there we are,
on our bicycles,
trying to get to the other side in one piece.

Anyone know what Im talking about?

We all do.
Forgiveness is something we’ve all had to rumble with.
As relational beings,
we know the cost of what it means to be vulnerable and loving.
Its a lived reality for all of us.

And this morning I don’t want to get too caught up in trying to explain what forgiveness is,
though we’ll touch on that;
and Im not wanting to get too caught up in the how either;
though we’ll touch on that too;
what Im concerned with today,
is the why.

Why do we need to forgive?
Why is this fundamental to redeemed and realigned humanity?
Why is this something God is calling us to intentionally practice?

Im interested in the why because for us to even begin to try to cross that road,
we need to know and trust the journey is worth it,
that it isn’t some exercise in futility but is connected to something bigger going on in the universe.

Are you with me?

So knowing we’re all in this together,
and knowing this is real and raw stuff where our faith and spirituality truly matters,
lets start with a prayer …

//

There is a story in the Bible.
It’s from the Gospel of Matthew,
and its definitely a story that so easily becomes our story.

Jesus and the disciples are hanging out
and Peter,
one of the disciples,
comes up to Jesus and he asks him:

“Jesus, how many times am I supposed to forgive a brother or sister who hurt me?”

Its the kind of question you’d ask someone like Jesus.
I mean, it’s Jesus, right?
He’s the one who shows us how to be human and alive in a world,
he’s the one who helps us find that way of life that just hums with reverence,
the way that while difficult, we know is deeply rooted in God.
This is Jesus’ thing so of course Peter would ask Jesus something like this.

But the question is interesting:

“How many times am I supposed to forgive someone?”

Clearly Peter’s got someone in mind.
It doesn’t really matter who.
What matters is that when it comes to forgiveness, we’re not doing some intellectual exercise.
Its not something we think about in the abstract or do in a bubble.
Its relational.
Its right here, right now.
This is very real life stuff he’s asking about.

But before Jesus can even answer, Peter answers his own question.

“7 times?! Oh, its gotta be 7.”

The traditional answer at the time would have been 3.
That was the standard rabbinical practice.
Forgive someone 3 times and then you’re in the clear.
Two’s not enough but no need to do it 4 times, 3 is a solid and valiant effort.

Peter, of course, would know this,
but knowing Jesus likes to do his whole ‘You’ve heard it said, but I tell you this’ bit,
one-upping and expanding people’s boundaries of just how we’re supposed to live,
Peter swings for the fences and goes with 7.

But Jesus looks at him,
and he’s gotta be smiling,
and he places a hand on Peter,
not to comfort him, but to steady him for what he’s about to say:

“No Peter, not 7 times.
70 times 7.”

Now Jesus is doing two things here.
Both really important.
One we’ll get to later,
but the other thing he is doing is offering us a brand new way to think about forgiveness.

When it comes to forgiveness,
he’s saying,
when it comes to dealing with that resentment, anger, bitterness, and woundedness we carry around when someone has hurt us,

– Cause when we talk about forgiveness we’re talking about ourselves, right?
We’re talking about an internal process,
a liberating act of self-care and love –

when it comes to doing that,
Jesus is saying,
3 won’t do it,
7 won’t either.

When it comes to doing forgiveness you need to do it 70 x 7 times – 490 times!

He’s being funny here.
He’s throwing out this ridiculous number to make a point.

Forgiveness, he’s saying, is a process.

Its something you keep working on,
it’s something keep extending,
it’s something you keep doing,
day after day after day after day,
bit by bit by bit.

Jesus doesn’t just one-up the standard,
he gives a whole new way of understanding forgiveness:

Forgiveness is not something we so much as do, this single act we take whenever a situation calls for it.
Forgiveness, rather, it’s a posture, disposition, and an attitude.
It’s a particular way of being in the world, a way of relating to ourselves and those around us.

Are you with me?

//

So we don’t really know what happened after Jesus blew Peter’s mind and expectations.
Maybe he looked dejected, maybe confused, probably both.
And to help him really understand why it’s 70×7,
to help him see the wisdom and truth behind this posture and disposition,
and now we’re getting to the other reason here,
Jesus tells him the parable of the unmerciful or unforgiving servant.

//

Jesus says:

The Kingdom of God is like a king who one day decides to clean up his books and take stock of everything he owns and is owed.
And this King discovers that one of his workers owes him 10,000 talents.

Now lets pull over here and do some math to help bring the power of this story up to date.

1 talent was equal to 6000 denari, and a denari was equal to a days wage.

So by today’s standards,
and this is some math I can’t take any credit for:

A denari, a days wage, would be about $92.80.
1 talent then, 6000 of those, would be $556,800.
And if that worker owed the King 10,000 talents,
his total debt … 5.5 billion dollars.

5.5 BILLION!

I have SO many questions.

How did the King not notice that 5.5 BILLION DOLLARS was missing?!
Was he that rich or just that terrible with his money?!

How was that worker skimming that much money?!
And what was that worker buying?!

And in case you need the help,
heres what you can buy for 5.5 billion:

Multiple trips to the moon,
multiple airbus A380 (biggest passenger jet),
5 major league sport teams,
personally finance all the next star wars movies,
finance our church budget for 13,700 years.
And with each one, you’d still have enough to be set for life.

5.5 Billion dollars.
Jesus is being funny here.
He’s, once again, being ridiculous for a reason.

The point isn’t the amount of money.
The point is that what is owed,
the debt between the King and the worker,
it’s as big as it gets,
it’s a debt of ultimate worth,
it’s a debt that nothing can replace,
it’s a debt one cannot pay back.

Jesus is using such a huge sum here because that’s how it is when someone we love hurts us, isn’t it?

That’s why that intersection of forgiveness is so hard to navigate because often we just don’t want to or can’t;
what is owed to us,
whats been lost,
that love,
that trust,
that relationship,
it’s of ultimate worth,
and we feel it just can’t be replaced.

And the King must know this
and that worker,
well, he’s gotta know this to,
but regardless,
and lets assume the best of him,
he’s contrite and pleads and begs with the King for patience to pay him back.

And the King we’re told how he has compassion for him,
and despite the amount of money lost,
despite the anger and hurt he is no doubt feeling,
he forgives the worker.

Its scandalous.
Its beautiful.
Its amazing.

But before we can get too caught up in that gesture,
the parable keeps going …

Now its not hard to imagine how that worker left the King.
We can imagine the weight off his shoulders
we can imagine the new lease on life he has:
he got away with his life,
he doesn’t owe anything,
he’s been forgiven!

And its here the story basically repeats itself but with one important difference.

The newly forgiven worker runs into someone else who owns him money,
this time about $9000 dollars being owed;
not 5.5 billion,
but still a huge chunk of change,
still a very significant value.
And we have the same conversation take place: debt owed, debt confronted, begging for patience and promises to pay it back …

But here the story changes.

The newly forgiven worker doesn’t respond with compassion.
He doesn’t offer the same mercy he just received.
He doesn’t embody that posture and attitude of forgiveness the way the King did.
Instead he chose to pour out all the anger and bitterness he’s feeling towards that man and he throws the guy in prison.

The King, he soon hears about this, and we’re told he’s furious.
He’s so mad that he brings in the forgiven worker and tears a strip off of him, saying:
“You evil servant!
I forgave you when you begged me for mercy.
Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?”
And then he throws him in jail for the rest of his life.

And if that wasn’t enough of an unsettling ending,
Jesus adds:
“And thats what God will do to you unless you forgive.”

//

Now a couple things:

First:

Lets remember this is a parable.
Jesus isn’t using it to make a literal point about God’s nature or character;
he’s using it to help answer Peter’s question,
he’s using it to help guide him into the truth and wisdom of the kind of life God wants us to lead, about why forgiveness is important.
So the shock of that last line,
while important,
it can be softened a bit when we realize its not literal but meant to convey the significance and weight of the lesson he’s teaching.

Second:

Whys the King so mad?
What point is the parable trying to make by having him be so upset the forgiveness he gave was not extended to the other worker?

Now, the answer to that brings us right into to the other reason Jesus says “70 times 7.”

Yes, Jesus was making a point about forgiveness being a process, posture and an attitude.
But he was also doing something else,
he was reminding people about this other story in the Bible,
this story about Lamech.

You remember him right?
Of course you do.
Peter and the disciples sure would have.

He was Adam and Eve’s great great great great grandson.
And in Genesis there’s this story about how someone attacked and hurt Lamech
and how,
in response to that wound,
in response to that debt,
he chose to avenge himself 70 times 7 times.

The story of Lamech is a story about the direction of our evolving humanity.
Its a story about how we went from a world of peace and paradise to a world of violence and chaos.
It’s a story about the way humanity has chosen to respond to its wounds and broken relationships:
escalation and vengeance.

The King in Jesus’ parable is mad,
and here’s the thing this parable is challenging us with:
because the worker didn’t stop that escalation.
He’s furious because the worker made the same decision so many before him did.
He chose to follow the way of Lamech and pour out the anger and bitterness instead of peace and mercy.
He chose to perpetuate the very world that Jesus came to undo and recreate.

//

So with all that in mind, lets ask the question again:

Why should we forgive?
Why is that fundamental attitude and posture of our faith and spirituality?
Why does Jesus end this story with such strong language?

Because the kind of life and world that was always meant to be is at stake.

This world and our lives are meant to be ones where shalom flows,
where peace exists between God and us,
us and each other,
and us and ourselves.

We need to forgive,
70 times 7 times,
because its through forgiveness …

its through choosing to pour out mercy and kindness,
its through choosing to stop the escalation of vengeance in our world and lives,

that we do something so incredibly important:

We participate in the very movement of God in the universe.
Day by day and bit by bit we begin to change our world and lives back into the way it was always meant to be:
lives and worlds where peace flows abundantly and freely.

So what does that have to do with being human and alive in the world?
According to this parable,

To be human is to be merciful.
To forgive is to be human.
Its to be a part of that benevolent flow of God into the universe.

Amen.

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One thought on “the unmerciful servant & forgiveness.

  1. Excellent Nick!
    Al and I read this while we are here in Victoria. I had to read it twice to absorb it all. Thankyou for the inspiration and all the work you do to help us understand the big questions.

    Joyce & Al

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