Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Tuesday of Trinity 22

 Total Forgiveness

Matthew 18:21-35 (ESV) Then Peter came up and said to Jesus, “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. Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, 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. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
In the parable, the King completely forgives the servant’s debt. On the cross, our debt to God has been paid. “Tetelestai,” Jesus cried out (John 19:30). “It is finished.” What all humans owed to God has been paid in full by Jesus, so our debt is canceled. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for the masses” (Matthew 20:28). Jesus paid that ransom to the Father. What’s more, His perfect obedience to the Father produced a currency that opens the door to heaven for us, His perfect righteousness.
Sins, debts, trespasses—by whatever name our misdeeds are called—they have been answered for by Jesus, at Calvary, under Pontius Pilate. Our prayer, “Forgive us our debts,” has been answered even before we were born. On Calvary, Jesus achieved forgiveness for all sinners, and now He sends His Holy Spirit to draw us to Himself so that we can be given that forgiveness through faith.
If His work on the cross weren’t delivered to us, it wouldn’t save us, so in the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, we confess, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins.” The Small Catechism explains that, “In this Christian church [the Holy Spirit] daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.” Here Christ’s Kingdom comes and His will is done: forgiveness and salvation for sinners.
How did you enter this Christian Church, His Kingdom, the place where God forgives our sins? You were given the Holy Spirit in Baptism, which “works forgiveness of sins.” In Baptism you were pardoned of all your debts and given a new life as a child of God. Baptism also indicates that your sinful Old Adam should be drowned and die, but he proves to be an excellent swimmer. The struggle against sin is endless! So we flee for refuge to God’s infinite mercy in Holy Absolution and in Holy Communion. In Absolution and in the Lord’s Supper, we are given forgiveness of our sins and strength for the new man’s struggle against the Old Adam.
Part of that struggle is to forgive others as we have been forgiven. While we are like that first slave in our standing before God and in God’s merciful forgiveness of all of our debt to Him, we must not then act like that wicked slave. The forgiven forgive. The parable shows that hell is the punishment for those who claim God’s forgiveness as their own but then heartlessly refuse to forgive those who sin against them and instead nurse grudges and seek retribution.
The point of the parable is that God has pardoned a debt you could never pay, which frees you to forgive those whose sins against you pale in comparison to the innumerable sins of thought, word, and deed you have committed against your Creator. If you receive God’s forgiveness of all your sins and then refuse to forgive your brother when he repents, there will be hell to pay.
It sounds easy in principle, but you know it is much harder in practice. We must not trivialize the severity of sins against us, or justify wrongdoing. The Ten Commandments not only identify our own sins, but also the sins others commit against us. Sin must be identified and repentance must be called for; it can’t just be swept under the rug. This parable is about forgiving those who acknowledge their debt to us; not those who are unwilling to admit that they have sinned at all. As with Christ’s saying about the log and the speck in eyes, we should rebuke the wrong others do, but we must first remove the log from our own eyes, lest we be hypocrites and our rebukes fall on deaf ears.
We also must not diminish how difficult it is to forgive those who have sinned against us in awful ways. Forgiveness of another’s sin isn’t just a one-time thing but might occur thousands of times over the years. Every time you pray the Fifth Petition, you are moved to think, “God has forgiven all my sins in Christ and so I will gladly forgive the sin of that person which just keeps flooding back into my mind, bringing back those horrible feelings and that bitterness.” Forgiving others is a struggle, and this is all the more reason to run to church to be given forgiveness in the Word and Sacraments, because only when we truly appreciate how great Christ’s forgiveness of our sins is do we have the ability to forgive others.
St. Paul wrote in Ephesians, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32). We love, because He first loved us. That’s where the power to forgive others comes from. Though your sins are as countless as the sand, though they number in the zillions, how much forgiveness do you have in Christ? Complete and total!
Prayer (LSB 843):
1. “Forgive our sins as we forgive,”
    You taught us, Lord, to pray;
But You alone can grant us grace
    To live the words we say.
2. How can Your pardon reach and bless
    The unforgiving heart
That broods on wrongs and will not let
    Old bitterness depart?
3. In blazing light Your cross reveals
    The truth we dimly knew:
What trivial debts are owed to us,
    How great our debt to You!
4. Lord, cleanse the depths within our souls
    And bid resentment cease;
Then, bound to all in bonds of love,
    Our lives will spread Your peace. Amen.

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