Sunday, October 23, 2016
Homily for The Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 22)
Matthew 18:21-35; Philippians 1:3-7; Micah 6:6-8
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
On the corner of West 44th Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan you will find the National Debt Clock which keeps a running, cumulative accounting of the national debt year after year, day after day, minute by minute, second by second. Needless to say, it has a lot of digits. On the left side of the clock, the numbers, thankfully, move rather slowly, but on the right side, even into the thousands of dollars, the numbers fly by so quickly that they appear as a digital “8,” the shape from which all the other numbers are formed. Recently I Googled the words “National Debt Clock” and I found the website USDebtClock.org which features a multitude of real-time “clocks” monitoring U. S. debt and all sorts of financial indices. As of Wednesday afternoon, the U. S. Debt was roughly $19.7 trillion. That breaks down to $60,685 per citizen and $165,073 per taxpayer. Suffice it to say, our nation, and every citizen and taxpayer in it, is in serious debt.
Ah, but that’s ok, right? After all, some of the richest and most powerful men and women in the country have mastered the art of turning debt into wealth. For them, debt is good! Well, debt may be acceptable and necessary at times, so long as the one you owe the debt to doesn’t come expecting payment, though I’m uncertain how it can be good. The U. S. economy is, seemingly, based upon, even dependent upon, debt. The only reason that we haven’t tanked is because we are generally thought to be “good for it.” That is to say, other nations, banks, etc. are willing to loan the U. S. money (or products) on credit with interest in the belief that the U. S. will be able to pay it back. And, truth be told, many American households are run on this principal as well. But, what happens when you don’t have good credit? What happens when the lender wants to be paid now and you don’t have the cash? That’s when the chickens come home to roost. That’s how it is with you concerning your sin.
Before God, you are a debtor having no credit and no way to pay Him back what you owe. You inherited your debt from your father, and from you grandfather, and from your great-grandfather, all the way back to your First Father Adam himself. And, don’t think that it’s somehow unfair that you are held accountable for someone else’s debt, for “in Adam we have all been one, one huge rebellious man.” No, Adam’s debt is truly your debt, and my debt, and the debt of every human soul, and your debt must be paid back in full. However, the debt you owe God because of your sin is only half the problem. You transgressed His commandments. You rebelled against your God. You chose to exercise your will over and above and in opposition to His will. You put your fear, love, and trust in other things and in yourself before God. You wanted to be a god unto yourself. The wages of this, your sin, is death. Now, supposing you could pay back your debt to God for your transgressions, which you cannot, you still must die for them. Your death is the fair, just, and righteous penalty for your sin. Death is what you have earned and merited. Death is what you deserve. You can pay it; in fact, you will, even as you are paying it in the decline of your body and mind right now. But, when you have paid your debt in full, you will have nothing left, you will be dead. And, worse than that, you will suffer in hell for eternity. You will never get out.
This is what Jesus had in mind when He taught His disciples in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. Yes, Jesus’ point in the parable is that you must forgive as you have been forgiven, just as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Some translations read, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,” for it is our debt to God that has been forgiven in Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion, death, and resurrection. However, to illustrate the enormity of the debt you owe to God the result of your sinful transgression, Jesus speaks in terms of financial indebtedness. Suffice it to say, the debt the U. S. owes, exemplified by the National Debt Clock, is but a drop in the bucket compared to your debt, and my debt, to our holy and righteous God.
Once again, Jesus begins by saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to…,” for this is yet another parable of the kingdom. Whatever you are to learn from Jesus in this parable is meant to teach you something about God and His kingdom. The parable begins with a servant who owed his master 10,000 talents. The amount is equivalent to something like ten billion dollars, an insurmountable and impossible debt for anyone to pay. The point is that the debt you owe to your Master God is insurmountable and impossible for you to pay. However, because the indebted servant pleaded with his Master for mercy, even if wrongly trying to strike a deal for more time to pay, the Master unexpectedly, amazingly, and graciously canceled the entire debt and let His servant return home forgiven and free. That is precisely what God your heavenly Father has done for you in Jesus Christ, giving Him unto death to satisfy your debt and pay the penalty you owed for your sin, death, that you might be forgiven, restored, and live. And so, the rest of the parable is truly about you: Do you recognize the debt your LORD has forgiven you? Do you recognize the love and mercy He has shown to you in canceling your debt in the blood of His own Son? If you do, then how can you hold anyone in their sins and transgressions against you? If you do, then how can you withhold forgiveness from those who are indebted to you a mere pittance in comparison to the debt your LORD has forgiven you?
As Jesus tells His parable, the servant for whom the Master had canceled the entirety of his debt and set him free went immediately to a fellow servant who owed him a small debt and demanded from him repayment in full. The unforgiving servant showed no mercy or forgiveness to his fellow servant but had him arrested and thrown in prison until he could repay the entirety of his debt. Of course, in prison, the poor indebted servant could never repay. When the Master received word of this He was understandably furious and He revoked His mercy and forgiveness and delivered His unforgiving servant to the jailers until he should repay the entirety of his debt. And, because this parable is not about financial indebtedness at all, but about forgiveness and the lack thereof, Jesus added, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Now, again, this parable is a parable about the kingdom of heaven. What it reveals is that your God has mercifully and graciously, completely and entirely forgiven you the debt you owed to Him in the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ. This is real and true for you, and it is irrevocable and certain. However, you must bear the fruit of the LORD’s forgiveness in your own love for your brother and sister, for your neighbor, for the stranger, and even for your enemy. To refuse to forgive others as you have been forgiven will not revoke the LORD’s forgiveness of you – that remains and stands irrevocable in the blood of Jesus Christ – but it is for you to refuse and to reject the LORD’s mercy and forgiveness yourself. If you refuse to forgive from the heart, then you have refused and rejected the LORD’s forgiveness for yourself.
Remember that Jesus told this parable to Peter and the disciples who had sought to place a limit upon forgiveness. “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” asked Peter, “As many as seven times?” Peter thought he was being generous! “I do not say to you seven times,” replied Jesus, “but seventy times seven.” Do not think that Jesus meant that you should forgive only 490 times, but, rather, that you shouldn’t count, but forgive always and without consideration. But, even if you did attempt to limit your forgiveness to only 490 times, you would surely lose count before that.
Now, I’ve preached it and taught it and said it countless times before, but it needs to be said again: When you forgive others, you forgive with God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ. It’s not really your forgiveness, but God’s. Therefore, what have you to lose? Nothing! When you forgive another who has sinned against you, it costs you nothing. In fact, when you forgive others you also free yourself from the self-imposed burden of keeping another person down. Or, to put it another way, you are an extension of God in Christ to others. You are Christ’s hands and heart, mouth and voice. When you forgive others, you extend to them Christ’s forgiveness. You are a branch of the True Vine Jesus, and the fruit you bear is forgiveness, mercy, love, and compassion. Needless to say, as a fruitless branch is cut off and thrown into the fire, so there can be no such thing as an unforgiving, unmerciful Christian. That is why the judgment against the unforgiving servant is so extremely harsh. By not loving and forgiving others, the unforgiving Christian demonstrates his lack of fear, love, and trust in God.
“If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O LORD, who could stand?” Thus we prayed in the Antiphon to the Introit this day. This is the confession of the Christian who knows the debt he owed to the LORD that the LORD has mercifully and graciously forgiven in the blood of Jesus. This is also the confession of the Christian who knows that he is no better off, no less sinful and guilty and in debt before the LORD than his brother or sister, than his friend or neighbor, or even than the stranger or his enemy. As Martin Luther famously confessed as he was dying, “We are all beggars.” Just as we all share a part in our national indebtedness, right down to every taxpayer and every citizen, so much more are we all together indebted to our God and Father. Therefore, in humility and lowliness we think no one beneath ourselves. However, in faith and trust and in fervent love for our God and Father we believe and know that we are forgiven, for He poured out the life of His Son Jesus in death upon the cross for our sins and for the sins of all the world. And, He invites you to come, drink freely of His mercy and forgiveness. Let His mercy and forgiveness fill you and flow out of you unto others for the life of the world. You are an extension of His grace and mercy, love and forgiveness, to the glory of His holy Name.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.