Sermon for the Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
October 31, 2010
So why does Jesus do it this way?
We come to the familiar story of Peter’s question of our Lord regarding how many times he ought to forgive someone who has sinned against him. Peter tries to put limits out there to make sure that he doesn’t do too much. Peter has turned Pharisaical and wants to know exactly what he’s supposed to do in a measured, quantitative fashion. It would be awful if Peter actually went the extra mile and continued to forgive when it actually hurt, when it actually cost him something. Our Lord answers him, and says, no, you are not to forgive your neighbor some documented number of times, and then put up a shield and say no more. When your neighbor comes to you in humility and with a sincere, penitent heart seeking your forgiveness you are to give it. His answer to Peter doesn’t even imply to do the actual math and limit it to 490 times. Jesus is using metaphor and hyperbole to tell Peter, quit putting limits on something that you don’t have any right to comment on – you leave that to me.
He then goes on and in familiar fashion tells them a story. He tells the parable that we’ve come to know as the parable of the unforgiving servant. Jesus doesn’t want Peter to concentrate on specific amounts regarding the number of times he tells him to forgive his neighbor, but this parable does use some specific amounts that helps tell the story. Notice that he is quite specific in making sure we know what he’s emphasizing when he tells us how much each debtor owed, and to whom they are owed. It said the first man owed the king 10,000 talents. How much is that? Let’s try and put this in perspective, and hang with me for a second.
A Talent would have been equal to about 60 minas. One mina would be equal to 3 months wages. Therefore, one talent would have been equal to 180 months wages. 180 months is 15 years so 1 talent would be 15 years worth of income. Jesus said 10,000 talents is what the man owed. You do the math, that’s 150,000 years’ worth of wages!!! This is what the man owed! He was indebted to the king 1,500 lifetimes worth of wages. Do you begin to see the magnitude of what he’s talking about here? There’s no way even in Warren Buffet terms that anyone could ever pay off indebtedness like that.
Jesus says it this way because of something very peculiar in the Greek. Two different words are in play here when looking at this parable, and when the servant literally “prostrated himself” before the king, begging him for mercy, the king was moved to compassion or was moved to pity, same word that I highlighted in a sermon several weeks ago, and forgave him not a debt, but a LOAN! What sense does the word loan make here in this context?
Think of what we say at the offertory, “All things come of thee O LORD, and of thine own have we given thee.” Think of what God said to Adam at creation, have dominion and stewardship over all things, take care of them, they are of an infinite worth, and I have entrusted them into your care. They are on loan to you. If you don’t take care of it, you can never repay the cost to replace it. I believe that there is a distinct theological point being made here, and very few English translations ever render to word as loan instead of debt. Our lives are in fact on loan to us. We in fact belong to God; we are made in His image; we have His Spirit within us. The giving of our lives, our souls, our bodies, is our woefully small, but crucial return payment for what we’ve received.
So the man who was forgiven the impossible loan or debt goes out and finds a fellow slave who owes him 100 denarii. So how much did this man owe? A denarius would have been the normal payment for a day’s wage. In Jesus’ day if you went down to your local Labor Finders a denarius would have been the amount you would have paid someone to work for you for a day. Therefore, 100 denarii would have been about 100 day’s wages. Certainly, with time, this fellow slave could have repaid the debt that he owed to his neighbor. However, the slave who had himself been forgiven couldn’t do the same, and had the man thrown into prison.
Word of course reaches the king’s ears regarding what happened, and he is infuriated with the man. If you remember back to the beginning of the parable, he said that he was going to take him, his wife, and his children, and everything that pertained to him, sell them off until everything that he owed was repaid. The unrepentant servant went a step further with his fellow-servant, and threw him into prison because he could not pay his debt. The plight of the first man became much worse when he went back before the king because he didn’t simply sell him and his family off for repayment, he didn’t simply throw him into prison, he turned him over to the tormenters. This is the only occurrence of this word in the Bible, but the word does in fact mean tormenter or torturer.
So here we come again back to my original question, why does Jesus do it this way? I believe that he tells the story the way he does and when he does is because the disciples like us today, need to hear things repeated and in a different fashion. What do I mean here?
At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he taught his disciples to pray, and told them that when they pray they should ask their heavenly Father to forgive them their debts, as they are called upon to forgive those indebted to them. In Matthew’s recording of our Lord’s words, the same word for debt is used here as in the Lord’s Prayer. The disciples and we too haven’t yet figured out that our ability to be forgiven depends on our ability to forgive. I’m not saying that God’s hands are being tied, but the only way for us to ever understand what it means to be truly forgiven is if we do the same to our fellow man. I don’t think that we can ever comprehend the magnitude of the debt that we owe to God, that has been paid though the shed blood of Jesus Christ, and that we have had the slate wiped clean by God’s Son. I don’t think we can ever comprehend that magnitude, but we can begin to approach it if we obey our Lord’s command and forgive as we ought. This is a lens through which we can understand God’s mercy is through our ability to forgive others who wrong us.
It’s a safe statement to make that we really don’t understand this magnitude. How about this for an example. We have just received our Lord’s pardon and forgiveness, and fed at his table. As we leave church our neighbor pulls in front of us, goes too slow, or in general irritates us on our way home. I’ve totally forgotten about God’s forgiveness of me as I am at best simply muttering something uncharitable under my breath, thankful I didn’t say what I was thinking out loud for others to hear. How do we expect God to forgive us, if we can first forgive others in the simplest of things? The writer of Ecclesiasticus conveys those exact same sentiments, “He that revengeth shall find vengeance from the Lord, and he will surely keep his sins in remembrance. One man beareth hatred against another, and doth he seek pardon from the Lord? He sheweth no mercy to a man, which is like himself: and doth he ask forgiveness of his own sins? If he that is but flesh nourish hatred, who will intreat for pardon of his sins?”
We have a divine command to seek pardon and forgiveness for the sins we commit against God and our neighbor. Our duty is to call our sins to remembrance so that we might lay them before Almighty God and ask him to so far remove them as the east is from the west. God’s promise is that He will do just that, however, he makes one request of us in the process – do the same to others. Show the same kind of charity to them that has been shown to each of us. For in so doing, we practice what we preach, and we receive the joy of being in love and charity with our neighbor, forgiving them as we have first been forgiven.