15th Sunday after Pentecost – Mt. 18:21-35 | The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
Here’s is the best thing I learned from running the Ragnar Relay with Jon Skov this last weekend:
Wherever Jesus wants to bless you,
Satan wants to curse you.
More on that at Bible Study.
For now, suffice to say that wherever Jesus wants to build you up,
Satan wants to tear you down.
Wherever Jesus wants to hold you close and comfort you,
Satan wants to torture you.
Wherever Jesus wants to free you,
Satan wants to bind you.
Wherever Jesus wants to make it easy,
Satan seeks to make it hard.
Jesus wants to make wrongs right, to forgive debts, to heal, and to bring peace.
And it is there in that exact spot that Satan attacks.
The very best way for Jesus to bless you is to forgive you.
You certainly do not deserve forgiveness, and you certainly cannot earn it.
You are very much like the debtor in the Gospel reading this morning,
Who owes the King a couple of billion dollars,
But you are flat broke,
And there is nothing you can do to pay it back.
But then the King, and in the story that is Jesus,
Then the King makes it right all by Himself.
The King knows that you owe Him big money.
But He also knows that if you try to pay Him back all by yourself, it will kill you.
So all by Himself, He clears the books.
He does not even listen to your grand plans about an installment package.
“Just be patient with me and I will pay it back.”
No, here in the text the word “forgiveness” means that the King opens up His hands, and He lets all your bad debts fall away,
Because He thinks that is the very best way to bless you and to make wrongs right.
So the debtor, and his wife, and his kids, and his entire household, they all go free.
And that should be the happy ending to this story.
But wherever Jesus seeks to bless you, Satan seeks to curse you.
So this is a place where Satan attacks and this is how it works:
Forgiveness costs us nothing.
It is a gift from God our heavenly Father;
And at first that is always a tremendous relief for us.
But then, as Satan begins to chatter in our ears,
We are tempted to make the fatal, cheap grace mistake;
Satan says, “If it costs you nothing, then it is nothing.”
“If you do nothing, nothing really happens.”
And so, over time, like the man in the story, we cheapen God’s grace.
We forget how horrible and how hopeless it was to be 2 billion dollars in debt.
And we forget how extraordinarily kind the King has been to us,
And so we lack gratitude.
If you have ever had a child, or a parent, or a boss, or a friend
Who has forgotten you after you have absolutely poured yourself out,
After you have given everything you’ve got
In money and care and time and effort and even forgiveness,
Then you know exactly what I mean.
In this story, getting forgiveness costs absolutely nothing.
That is true.
But giving forgiveness costs a ton.
To be more specific, by present values, it costs about 100 tons of gold.
That’s how much the King lets slip through His fingers.
When the King did that, He was telling the man that the most important thing in life is not money;
Instead, the most important thing in life is you.
Jesus doesn’t care what kind of a tab you run up with your sins today.
He’s willing to let all of that slip through His fingers.
What He wants is you.
He wants to forgive you,
And lead you,
And change you,
And bless you.
Jesus wants you to see as He sees,
And do as He does,
And say as He says,
And live as He lives.
At the end of the day,
What Jesus wants most of all is that you all forgiven folks would be forgiving too.
The point of the story is this:
We are very good at taking forgiveness,
But often we are not so good at taking forgiveness seriously.
The place we often fall short is in making restitution for our sins –
In making wrongs right with our neighbor, as best we can,
AFTER we’ve been freely forgiven.
Here, immediately, a good Lutheran will respond, “We cannot earn our forgiveness.”
And that is 100%, no doubt, absolutely correct;
And I’ve already said that,
And that is the first half of this story.
But now I’m talking about the 2nd half –
Where the slave who has already been freely forgiven,
Goes out and meets a friend on the street,
And he absolutely pounds that poor man for about $7,000,
And throws him into prison until he can pay it back.
Restitution means making things as right as you can make them.
Restitution means living within the blessing.
Restitution means mopping up the mess we’ve made, once we’ve been forgiven.
To put things in Small Catechism terms,
The first part of the story is about justification,
But the second part is all about sanctification.
It’s really very simple.
If you rob a bank and have great remorse,
And you come to me as your pastor,
And I forgive you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
Then on your way to the police station to turn yourself in,
You stop at the bank and you give the money back.
That is restitution.
That is living within the blessing.
This is what the King expects.
But clearly this slave did not get the message.
And when He finds out what the man has done,
He damns that slave in the most bitter sense:
He lets the slave have his old life back.
He lets the slave have his way.
“What?!” says the King.
“I thought he liked being free?
He wants justice?
He doesn’t want mercy?
He hates blessing?
Then put him in prison,
And let him and his family make license plates
Until they pay me back two billion dollars.”
As C.S. Lewis once famously wrote, “The door to hell is locked from the inside.”
I’m not sure I would put it that way in an eternal sense,
But at least for now, we stay in a hell of our own making,
When will not have and live within the blessing and forgiveness Jesus gives.
One final thing:
As I read this text, it occurs to me that it wouldn’t hurt us to think of forgiveness as a kind of currency – Jesus certainly does.
If we could think of it as something, and not as nothing;
As something having great value, instead of no value.
Forgiveness is a real currency,
Not so different from a dollar bill.
You can’t make it by yourself anymore than you can print money in your basement.
That is monopoly money – and it is worthless.
But once it is given to you, it is yours to pass on,
And by passing it on you bless others:
Lavishly, thoroughly, and without condition.
Think of forgiveness that way.
When Jesus gives you forgiveness, He not only gives you enough to cover all your bad debts, but with enough to give to all the people you know – friends and enemies.
And if you don’t spend it,
It is not just that you are a miser,
It is that you are no Christian,
Because you do not say as Jesus says,
And do as Jesus does,
And live as Jesus lives.
Today Christ the King is here again,
His is here to forgive you and love you, and mercy you,
And most of all He is here to bless you,
To give you enough forgiveness for a lifetime,
Enough for you and your family and your friends,
And even for your enemies.
That is the life of Christ.
That is the life of mercy.
And that is the life we aspire to here in the Church.
The majority of this sermon was inspired by Rev. Dr. Scott Bruzek of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Wheaton, IL in a homily preached in September 2011.