Sunday, October 21, 2012

Homily for The Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 22)


Matthew 18:21-35; Philippians 1:3-11; Micah 6:6-8

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Do you not find it ironic that your Lord tells Peter to forgive seventy times seven and then tells a parable about a king who forgives only once. What’s with that? You are to forgive endlessly, but God forgives only once? But then, this is a parable of the kingdom of heaven, which is not like the kingdoms of men.

In the kingdoms of men you think that you want justice, what’s right, above all else. Therefore you sympathize with Peter in his desire to limit forgiveness. A repeat offender deserves justice, punishment, you believe. However, when the king exacts such harsh punishment upon a servant who owed him a debt, most likely you sympathize with the servant and feel that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, that it’s not right or just. But, then, when the king entirely forgives his servant’s debt out of pity for him, don’t you feel that that is unjust as well? No one is supposed to get somethin’ for nothin’. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, after all. Do you see how twisted your thoughts about justice are? By what measure or barometer do you decide what is just, what is right, and what is fair and good?

Jesus knows this about you, and He is a master storyteller. He tells you this parable to expose your hypocrisy and your self-righteousness about justice. As He continued His parable, next He had the servant who was mercifully and graciously forgiven the entirety of his debt literally wring the neck of another servant who owed him a pittance in comparison. Though the servant pleads with him only for a little more time, he had him arrested and thrown in prison until he could pay back every last cent. Of course, in prison he could not earn a wage, therefore, he would never get out. How does this twist in the story affect your sense of justice? Are you not outraged that the servant who was forgiven so much could then refuse to forgive, or at least be merciful with, a servant who owed him so little? Do you not now empathize with his fellow servants who witnessed this wickedness and went and reported to their master what had taken place? From what high place do you stand in judgment? Did you not sympathize with this man before, and now you condemn him?

Remember, this is a parable about the kingdom of heaven. What then is Jesus teaching you about the kingdom of heaven? Is it not as it was with King David when the Prophet Nathan exposed his murderous sin by telling him a story? When David heard that the rich man had taken the poor man’s ewe lamb and killed it, he was filled with rage at the injustice and shouted that the man deserved to die! Then, the Prophet said to him, “You are the man!” When you hear the Prophet’s story, when you hear Jesus’ parable, like David, you are quick to judgment, filled with self-righteous anger, ready to condemn. However, what is truly exposed is the truth that you are the man. It is as if Nathan is pointing his finger at you, saying, “You are the man.” You are the unforgiving servant. For, if you had been forgiving, you would not have desired condemnation in your heart for the wicked servant. You would not have snitched on the unforgiving servant, wishing that the king would exact punishment. You would have forgiven. You would have gone to him, exhorted him to repentance, and brought him back into the community, restored him.

You are the other servants who told on the wicked servant, who refused to forgive and wanted him to get what he deserved. You want justice. You want people to pay for the evil they do, and not just in this life. You want them to pay eternally. You condemn them. And so the Lord says, be careful what you ask for. If it is a God who condemns and exacts justice for others that you are asking for, you will have a God who condemns and exacts justice also for you. If that is the sort of king you want, that is the sort of king you will have. If that is the kind of God you want, that is the kind of God you will get, for you, too, will pay for all your evil. Therefore, humble yourself before the king because He, and only He, is the greatest in the kingdom. Do not suppose that you can demand justice for everyone else but yourself. You’re not unique. You, too, have been forgiven much. You, too, have received God’s compassionate mercy. You have received forgiveness seventy-seven fold.

Thus, you are each of the debtors in Jesus’ parable: the forgiven debtor, the debtor who wouldn’t forgive, and the debtor whose forgiveness was revoked because he wouldn’t forgive. And, your sense of justice is shown to be imperfect, changing, and biased. God’s justice alone is perfect and unchanging. Repent, and receive forgiveness. Then, forgive as you have been forgiven. Give, as you have been given to. And, do not condemn, as you are not condemned.

For Jesus’ sake, alone, God has forgiven you, once, but for all. The only way that can be revoked is by your refusal to accept it. When you refuse to forgive others, when you choose to judge and condemn, then you put yourself back in God’s debt, you throw off His forgiveness and re-shackle yourself under the burden of your sin, with its judgment and condemnation. When you pray in The Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” you are confessing that your own forgiveness is linked to your forgiveness of others. If you will not forgive others, then you place your own forgiveness in jeopardy. For, in truth, it is only with Jesus’ forgiveness that you are able to forgive others. You have no ability to forgive of your own, nor reason that you should be forgiven. That is why Jesus says that you should forgive seventy times seven. That is to say, there is no limit to your forgiveness of others, just as there is no limit to God’s forgiveness of you. For, your forgiveness rests in Jesus Christ, the once for all, and for all time, sacrifice of God’s Son on the cross for the sins of all people, of all times and all places. For the sake of His Son, God will never revoke His forgiveness. But, if you will not then forgive others, you have rejected God’s forgiveness of yourself.

God’s forgiveness was at great cost, the cost of His only-begotten Son. But, His sacrifice was necessary so that you could be judged righteous through faith in Him. God’s forgiveness of you is for Jesus’ sake alone. It is yours, free, without any cost or merit. When you forgive others, it is at no cost to you. But, when you refuse to forgive others, you rob God, reject and refuse Him, and thus willfully choose to cast yourself outside of His forgiveness. May the Holy Spirit guide you and counsel you to forgive as you have been forgiven. May He continually draw you to Jesus’ Words and Wounds that your forgiveness may be renewed, your faith strengthened, and your salvation confirmed. “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” May He grant it to you, for Jesus’ sake.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thanks to Rev. Jason Braaten for portions of this homily and for much of the inspiration behind it.

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