There are so many questions for us as we seek to understand God. As people of faith, a central question is how does our faith affect who we are? How does our faith work itself out in practical ways, and daily living that others could notice and describe? (In high school there was an awkward question, if being Christian was a crime would there be enough evidence to convict you?) We know and understand at some level that our faith can not be separated from how we live and what we do. It matters how we treat others, at work, at home, and in our daily lives between Sundays. What we say we believe needs to be shown in ways that we live, as we take our faith more and more seriously. It is part of the journey as we become new creations.
As we look at our passage today, we hear about forgiveness, and what Jesus is saying is that forgiveness is one of the most important things for a disciple to reflect in their lives. He is saying that forgiveness is essential for disciples. I bet that each of us can think of someone who has hurt us or betrayed us, or perhaps many people come to mind. In some cases it may be past history, it is over and done with, it has been forgiven. In other cases it may not be, it may still be an open wound, an ongoing problem. It may be a recent conflict with a person, or it may have been something from childhood that still hurts.
Thinking about these people in our lives that we have unresolved conflict with, thinking about the unforgiven people in our lives, those with whom we have a grievance, those to whom we may have said, “I will never forgive you, I can never forgive you”. Some sins may seem too big to be forgiven. But what Jesus says is that those who can not forgive, or be changed by being forgiven will pay for it for the rest of their lives. The truth is that when we fail to forgive, that wound that we have festers, and can become infected, and can fail to ever heal. Over time, sometimes, it becomes worse than it was already.
The point of Jesus’ parable is simple. If you have been forgiven, you should be forgiving. This is a case where it is often easier to receive than it is to give. Hopefully, we all know what it is to be forgiven. How many times have made a mess of things, fractured a cherished relationship and found ourselves in a place feeling empty handed being only able the words “forgive me”, and meant it, and then heard “you’re forgiven, it’s O.K”.. At that moment a relationship changes, it can go forward because both people are changed by the act of forgiveness. The one who is hurt lets go of their right to be offended, the one who has done the hurting must be changed by the fact that they have been forgiven. As Christians we are called to share and reflect the grace we receive and be changed by it. For if we do not, we are like the servant in the story.
The servant in this parable owes 10,00 talents. (Which is a huge preposterous number, it is like a million billion dollars- more than PowerBall will ever be) , and this servant, or slave, he is not a slave in the way we think about slaves. He is a servant of the government, quite probably a tax collector. He may have been embezzling for many years and the time for reckoning has come, and he is in big trouble. He pleads for time to pay the king back, and there is no way he is ever going to be able to pay him back. But he pleads and the king, in a moment of mercy, cancels his debt.
He has to feel great as he leaves the king’s chambers, he’s off the hook. And yet he goes out and immediately confronts a fellow servant who owes him the equivalent of 17 dollars , he has just been forgiven millions of dollars, and he is chasing down 17. The servant grabs him by the throat and says pay me what you owe me, and throws him in jail. When the king hears about this he is angered, he throws the first servant in jail for the rest of his life. It is not that the king could not forgive him, it is that the king judged the servant for not being changed by his own experience of forgiveness. He just was let off the hook of a lifetime of swindling, given a new chance to life freely. Yet the man was unwilling to be transformed by that gift, so he is forgiven – yet sentenced to live in a prison. One might say the prison is of his own making. One author has suggested that every time we refuse to forgive it is like another stone being dropped into our hearts. If we can not forgive, we imprison ourselves.
In the States, the most common form of the Lord’s Prayer that is used asks “forgive us our debts- as we forgive our debtors”. It is perhaps the most literal translation of the Lord ’s Prayer. It conveys the sense of obligation, debts, we owe to one another as we sin against another. If I have done something to damage a relationship, or sinned, I am in debt to make it right. I need to be forgiven for the offense. And vice versa, I need to be willing to forgive when the time is right for that as well. I want to emphasize the point that forgiveness is not maintaining abusive relationships where something wrong happens over and over again and people keep saying I’m sorry forgive me, and then just keep doing it over and over again. That’s not it. Accepting forgiveness leads to changed lives.
No one would suggest that forgiveness is easy. God understands, how much, how difficult and how costly forgiveness is. The communion table reminds us of that truth! And yet it remains, those who have received grace are to respond with grace to others. We have all been in the position of the king, we have all had those who have offended us, betrayed us, those who have lied to us, cheated on us, and taken for us for granted. We all have legitimate complaints, we have all been right in saying we have been wronged. But the question is -when the time is right- can we give grace as freely as we would receive grace.
There’s a story that’s been circulating for some time. It’s about a father who had a dreadful falling-out with his son. The story begins in a little village in Spain. Father and son argue, and say things they should never have said. The son, whose name is PAC, runs away to the big city of Madrid. Weeks go by, then months, and the father comes to regret his anger. He rehearses, over and over again in his mind, the apology he will offer to his son when he returns. Yet Paco, the prodigal son, does not return. The father begins to fear he has lost his son forever.
Finally, the father resolves upon a desperate plan. He travels to the city, armed with posters that he puts up on every wall and tree. He takes out a classified ad in the newspaper, and everywhere the message is the same: “Dear Paco, Meet me in front of the newspaper office tomorrow at noon. All is forgiven. I love you.– Your father.”
To understand what happens next, you have to realize that “Paco” is a very common name in Spain: almost like “John” or “Jim” in our country. And you have to remember that the father did not sign his posters, or his classified ad, with anything except “Your father.” By twelve o’clock the next day, the story goes, Paco the son is waiting outside the newspaper building; he and his father have a joyful reunion. Yet along with the son, there are 800 other men named Paco, gathered outside the newspaper building, every last one of them hoping it is his
father who took out the classified ad and nailed up the posters.
The words I love you and I forgive you, are not said often enough. They carry a real power to make things new, to set relationships right. May we find the strength to write letters, or make calls if they need to be, and give forgiveness in the right moment as we receive it. May we be willing to be changed as others forgive us and welcome us back to continue relationships in new and grace filled ways. AMEN