September 13, 2020
15th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 19
Before we jump in to today’s gospel lesson, I want to back up a bit in the story to the question that prompts Jesus to talk about resolving conflict that we looked at last week and the parable of the unforgiving slave we read today.
As we continue to walk through Matthew’s telling of Jesus’ earthly ministry, in the midst of Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God, his acts of healing and feeding and putting others first, the disciples ask the question “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?”
And you know the Jesus Weeps statue In Oklahoma City that looks more like Jesus doing a facepalm? That’s how I imagine him in this moment, but that’s just me projecting my own response onto Jesus.
From our seat in this continuous story of God and God’s people, it’s easy for us to shake our heads and say, “they just don’t get it.” But, I don’t think we really get it either most of the time. As we talked about last week, a lot of folks have decided these Kingdom teachings of Jesus are no longer relevant to us today.
Clearly, though, our way of fighting to the top, thinking only of our own needs regardless of the needs of others, pursuing our own agenda and self-preservation rather than working together for the greater good isn’t making this world a better place.
And who better to look to for learning a better way than the very God who created us and knows us better than we know ourselves? We don’t need the ‘self-help’ section of the bookstore but God’s help in transforming our hearts and minds so that we can be the Kingdom people Jesus teaches us to be.
All that Jesus does and says and all that he shows and teaches us tells us there is no one individual “greater” than any other in God’s kingdom because we are all equally worthy in God’s eyes – we are, each and every human being, worthy to be God’s child, of infinite value. God loves each of us as if we were the only one.
Life – and love – in God’s kingdom isn’t a competition but a companionable journey in which we are all to do what is ours to do and join together in who God calls us to be. This is how we participate with God in making this world a better place for all of us.
Following our lesson last week on how to work through conflict from a place of mercy and grace rather than retaliation and revenge, Peter asks the follow up question I’m sure many of us would have asked in his place: “So, just how often are we to go through this? If we are to love the ones who aren’t behaving, just how many times do we have to forgive them before we can cast them aside as not worth our time?”
Now, I may have taken a bit of poetic license in that quote, but you know that’s what was really behind Peter’s actual words.
When Jesus gives the answer “seventy seven times” he is not telling us to keep score but to always be willing to forgive. This particular number would have brought to mind for those listening the story in Genesis of Lamech, Cain’s great-great-grandson, boasting about killing a man for striking him and twisting God’s action of protection for Cain into a life of unchecked personal vengeance for Cain’s descendants.
To illustrate the point of abundant forgiveness, Jesus tells them a story, a parable to help us all see ourselves as participants in and not passive observers of God’s story.
It’s important to notice that Jesus introduces the parable with “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to,” not “forgiveness is like” or “there once was a king.”
Jesus isn’t giving us a technical checklist so we can claim goodness through our own behavior, but a way of living that reveals who God is – a life framed by mercy and love.
The amount the slave owed in this story is more than he could have earned in a lifetime, an incalculable amount of money. A talent was about 6000 denarii and a denarii was a day’s wages. So try to imagine all those zeros – about six million days wages, not even Methuselah lived that long! An incomprehensible debt, forgiven in mercy. And yet this man refused to forgive even a minute fraction of this amount in a debt owed to him.
In all of his teaching about the kingdom of heaven, Jesus gives us situational references to how we fulfill the greatest commandment of loving God and our neighbor as ourselves; Jesus is teaching us how to live that little rule he gave us that we’ve relegated to posters in a kindergarten classroom: “treat others as you would like to be treated.”
The Golden rule speaks of governing our own behavior towards others, not trying to manage other’s behavior for our benefit. All that Jesus teaches us about how to live into our relationship with God and each other is about changing our own hearts and behavior.
Jesus teaches against our attempts to manipulate or control others behavior toward us so that they “deserve” our best. Jesus teaches that we give our best towards others regardless of their behavior.
Each of us is called to model the gift and blessing of God’s forgiveness. We are to forgive as we’ve been forgiven by God.
Forgiving isn’t about “fixing” the other person or making them behave within our defined framework, forgiving is about allowing God’s love to heal us.
Forgiving doesn’t require the other person to even know we’ve been offended by their behavior. Forgiving requires that we make the choice not to be offended by what others do.
It isn’t about accepting bad behavior but accepting the value and worth of every human being regardless of their flaws and responding to them accordingly.
Jesus’ teaches us about how to live with abundant mercy and grace because God offers us the same.
Living in God’s kingdom is about treating others as Jesus does tax collectors and sinners by welcoming them into a loving, Jesus-centered community so we can all learn to be other-focused as we follow Jesus.
Accountability and Mercy go hand in hand. We are each accountable for examining where we need growth and maturity and modeling for each other how this is done.
The point of Jesus’ numbers isn’t a scorecard but to say that forgiveness isn’t quantifiable; it isn’t about earning points or winning. Seventy-seven times and ten thousand talents both symbolize uncountable amounts, an abundant supply of mercy and forgiveness and love.
Loving others as God loves us doesn’t involve score-keeping and counting; it is the way Jesus calls us to live on earth as it is in heaven, journeying together, lifting each other up, weighing our own behavior, and letting God shape our hearts and minds into Kingdom people. Amen.