Monday, September 15, 2014

Seven Time Seventy

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. [7] 23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. [8] 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. [9] 25 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. 26 So the servant [10] fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, [11] and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 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. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, [12] until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:21-35 (ESV)
“And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” so Jesus delivers the parable’s punchline, and the illustration of the kingdom of God is made complete.  What’s left to say?
On the one hand, this is something that we instinctively understand as Christians. We have been forgiven and so we are supposed to forgive. And yet of everything the Lord asks us to do, this is perhaps the hardest for our sinful nature. Seven times seventy Jesus says, that’s how often we are supposed to forgive our brother who sins against us. Even here Jesus contrasts the kingdom of heaven with the world. The seventy fold does not come out of nowhere. It was meant to bring to mind the Lament of Lamech as he tells his wives that he has killed a man for wounding him, a young man for striking him. If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, mine is seventy seven fold.” A metaphor for the realities of the sinful world we live in. The dog eat dog, tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye, justice to be served. But then everything escalates. And satisfaction of our slight we want even more than simple justice, retribution. But it isn’t ever slaked, the thirst never quenched.
No, and the grudges. Why do we hold on to these things? Yes, we know we ought to forgive. We understand what Christ says about forgiving from the heart. We even tell each other that holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die. And that is precisely what it is like. How often is a grudge like that? How often have we watched grudges turn into bad choices that would otherwise not be made? How often hatred or a perceived slight has clouded judgment and torn a family apart? A congregation apart? And yet why? We hold onto these grudges like a two year old clinging to a blanky. They are like teddy bears the way we hold onto them a brood a venomous vipers, the rattlesnakes in our sleeping bags. This is the world of Cain, the reality of Lamech who knows the vengeance of this world is never satisfied with justice but bleeds over into revenge, and escalates to 70 fold.
And yet we would be forgiven, you and I. We beg God for mercy. I’m not sure we always realize what it is we are asking of God. Whatever the sins our neighbors have committed against us, multiply it by seventy times seven, and we haven’t even come close to realizing our transgressions against God, which also include our refusal to forgive our brothers and sisters from the heart. Parents possibly understand this a bit more than others, how disappointing it is to see children who can’t get along. The pain it causes. Again, multiply it by seven times seventy and perhaps you start understanding the sin against God. Here’s his creation, his beloved image shared on the earth, and we think nothing of slandering them, seeking revenge upon them, causing their downfall, wishing their death. This is what God forgives us, his unworthy servants. This is what he forgives us. A debt that couldn’t be paid with any gold or silver, such an astronomical debt it could only be made right, the account justified by the blood of Christ, his innocent suffering and death, the only things that could make atonement, the death of God himself. Yes, when you ask for mercy, when you ask for forgiveness, you ask for his death!
But you? Are you willing to die? Are you willing to suffer death? Or even the slight to your pride? Jesus dies for you, but can you die for him? And it is death that is required. He who loses his life for my sake will save it, Jesus says. This life, the life of your old Adam, the sinful self- inside you that can’t take injury or insult. This is the life you lose. And how often must you lose it? 70 times 7 as many times as your brother asks forgiveness. Because God’s kingdom to which you belong, it isn’t about revenge, it isn’t even about justice, it’s about forgiveness. In God’s kingdom forgiveness is the air we breathe, it is the only thing by which we live. And so it is to forgiveness we are called in daily repentance drowning the old Adam in the waters of baptism and rising to the new life we have in Christ. No, it isn’t easy. And we fail at this too. Perhaps it is the greatest sin for which we need ask forgiveness, for mercy, and for grace to realize the extent of our debt to Christ for his mercy that we might also be able to extend that to others. No it isn't easy. It is death, and death is never easy, but it was done for you.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

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