Faith of Forgiveness

Matthew 18 21-35

Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a certain king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. “And when he had begun to settle them, there was brought to him one who owed him ten thousand talents. “But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. “The slave therefore falling down, prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will repay you everything.’ “And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. “But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ “So his fellow slave fell down and began to entreat him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ “He was unwilling however, but went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. “So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. “Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you entreated me. ‘Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you?’ “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. “So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

Poor Peter, he stepped in it again. After hearing that a disciple must humble himself as a very small child, look for straying sheep and rejoice greatly when a sinning sheep returns, Peter focused on the negative aspects of these analogies and asks, rather sarcastically, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” The context is proof that Peter didn’t get it and the parable is more proof. But even before teaching the parable, Jesus rebuked Peter.

Notice the context. “How often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” This is a metaphor that almost all pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers see, but of course, there are always those overly literal, dogmatic few, who would say that on the 491 time, you don’t have to forgive. If Jesus literally meant 490 times, he probably would have said, up to 490 times.

But he didn’t. He actually uses a bit of banter and some witty wordplay. Jesus takes Peter’s originally suggested number, multiplies it by ten and then multiplies that again, by the original number, or; 7x10x7. Peter thought seven to be a fairly large number for forgiveness. But he missed the point. The point in not about how much or how often one is called to forgive but that there is much rejoicing when we win back our brothers. Peter, like many of us, took the metaphorical meaning and the proverbial picture painted, out of context. Jesus corrects him with a little humor and then tells the following parable:

For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a certain king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. “And when he had begun to settle them, there was brought to him one who owed him ten thousand talents. “But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. “The slave therefore falling down, prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will repay you everything.’ “And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. “But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ “So his fellow slave fell down and began to entreat him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ “He was unwilling however, but went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. “So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. “Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you entreated me. ‘Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you?’ “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. “So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

We have read this parable twice. Did you notice more the second time, after consideration of the context, the sublime string and the manner in which Jesus responded to Peter? King and slave, while having certain spiritual  significance, don’t play well with our culture. One should not get bogged down by the use of “king” and “slave.” While Jesus is king, and we are to be his slaves, we in the west don’t particularly like either of those words–which is understandable. Nevertheless, we can’t let cross-cultural cases contaminate our consideration of the context. Jesus uses things that the first-century, disciples would understand. The king wouldn’t be a king as we understand it nor would a slave. Herod was “King of the Jews,” but in reality, he was nothing more than a puppet to Caesar. The important thing to grasp is that one person owed a very large debt to another, even though  much smaller debts were owed to him by others.

The other thing to consider is the sub-genre. Remember that this is a parable. It is a small, symbolic story told to highlight a greater truth. The problem we have, along with many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers, is that we zoom in on the words of the parable rather than seeing the greater context. We must consider the CAGED method where; Context is King, especially the greater context; Author’s aspiration to his audience is apex (Jesus in this particular parable, but still Matthew recording the story); Genre is the general (gosple, but the sub-genre of parable); expository exegesis of Examples enlightens (what does the rest of the Bible say about forgiveness?); then Divide rightly the word of truth.

Many commentators suggest that we have been forgiven and therefore owe a debt of forgiveness based upon this particular parable. Problem; that’s not what a proper exegesis of examples explains. Nor is that part of the greater context. Because the king forgave the slave’s debt, yet the slave didn’t forgive his debtors so that the king revoked his forgiveness, commentators claim that we are in “forgiveness debt” to the Lord. You can see the problem with that line of thinking and digging too deeply into the parable. We have rightly been taught that unforgiveness is a sin. But have we not also been rightly taught that on the cross Jesus said, “it is finished?” Which literally means that all our debts have been paid in full.

Paul writes to the Colossian church, “And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” Could Paul have written that any better? The debt certificate has been nailed to the cross, it’s been taken out of the way. It’s difficult to believe sometimes but it’s the truth. Problem: if one resembles the slave that was forgiven the large debt but then went and choked one that owed him a smaller debt, throwing him into prison when he couldn’t pay, one must question, has his debt has been nailed to the cross? Never to be one to shy away from controversy, I truly believe that even though one may have prayed a prayer, if said one is completely unforgiving, that one is probably not a sheep, but a goat–not Israel but a gentile–not a saint but a sinner–not found but lost– not saved but unsaved and that, based on the context. “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.” Many pastors and preachers theologians and teachers would say that this is proof of purgatory. Problem: there is not even a hint of purgatory in the sacred Scriptures. Remember that this is a parable, not literal doctrine, such as,   “What shall we say then?”Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?”

Parables and metaphors and similes, oh my! How are we to interpret the words of Jesus when he prodamanantly presents parables? We look for the greater meanings, considering the context, aspirations, genre, examples and dividing. Can one be unforgiving and saved? I hope so or we are all in trouble. But can one be completely opposed to even the idea of forgiveness and be saved? Look at the greater context and meaning– it’s highly doubtful. Forgiveness is the watchword! Jesus did not come to this earth to live, but to die. King David, the adulterer writes, “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit!” The author of Hebrews says, And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Jesus is recorded by Matthew, teaching how to pray; “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Paul writes to the church in Ephesus, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

Forgive me for not posting the thousands of verses that tell us, not only that we have been forgiven, but that we are also to forgive. Forgiveness is the basis for our faith. Therefore, would we not expect, even pragmatically, that if we have been forgiven, we ought to forgive.

And then there is undoubtedly this: “but you don’t know what he did to me?” No, I don’t. Nevertheless, we killed Jesus with our sins. Forgiveness is the backbone of our faith. Where would we be without forgiveness.

 

 

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