September 13, 2020 The Twenty fourth Sunday Ordinary Time (Cycle A)
The tie in between today’s readings: Forgiveness
Psalm 103:1-12, encourages us to never forget God’s mercies. In these inspired words, David recounts blessings that the Father has lavished upon His children: lovingkindness, compassion, healings, protection, and, the biggest one of all, forgiveness. Peppered throughout these passages, the Psalmist reminds us that God has not dealt with us according to our sins. He has redeemed our lives from the pit (Hell). He has pardoned us from all our iniquities. Best of all, the Lord removes our transgressions from us as far as the east is from the west. He will never bring them up again. Forgiveness is by far mankind’s biggest need and God’s greatest accomplishment through the suffering, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. Perhaps this is the reason why it is so hard for us to forgive each other; it costs a lot! The rest of today’s readings explore this foundational principle of our faith, its benefits, and why forgiving is a sacrifice worth making.
First, let’s acknowledge that the heartaches others inflict upon us are very real and can hurt with a pain that runs deeper than any stab wound. The torments replay in our minds every waking moment and grind on our insides like a coffee mill. Our natural tendency is vengeance. We plot and we plan and dream up all kinds of delicious ways to get even, all the while enjoying every moment of it. Revenge is the narcotic that we use to nurse our hurt. Once we’re hooked, it’s hard to give up. But we must because, in the end, we are only harming ourselves. Physically, the effects of anger, grudge holding, and hatred are well documented in the medical literature to cause ulcers, heart disease, and other life shortening conditions. Depression, insomnia, and drug abuse pop up on the Psychological side of the ledger. Socially, we lose the pleasures of today because we fixate on yesterday’s injury. Bitterness leads to cynicism and self-pity that impedes our relationships with others. In fact, they may go out of their way to avoid us. After all, who wants to hang around with One Note Johnny and another tired rendition of They Done Me Wrong? So, from a human standpoint, refusing to forgive is an all-around loser proposition.
Our reading in Sirach 27:30-28:9 shows us the Lord’s displeasure with an unforgiving heart. He warns that the revenge that you are plotting will come back to bite you. God, Himself, will be working against you. That’s not a good place to be. The Almighty has relieved us from the burden of getting even. Trust Him. He will repay. Instead, He commands us to love our neighbor, do good to our enemy, and forgive from the heart. God is so serious about this that He puts harmony before worship (Matthew 5:22-24). Reconciliation is a two-way street. We will be judged on how well we walked it. The Lord’s Prayer tells us that God will forgive us in the same manner that we forgave others. Our fundamental need to forgive and be forgiven is the theme of today’s gospel reading in Matthew 18:21-35.
In a nutshell, the king mercifully forgives a man an astronomical debt. This guy, however, does not forgive the comparable pittance owed to him. The king finds out and our unforgiving debtor lands in jail for life. Jesus concludes with the moral: when it comes to forgiveness, don’t ask for it if you won’t give it. Straightforward enough! Today, however, I want to look at the unasked question of this parable: How did this guy get into so much debt in the first place? I see two possibilities. First, the man assumed that the king was so kindhearted that he could get away with whatever. To his surprise, he never expected that there would be an accounting one day. Many people in this world think that about God, their sin, and Judgement Day. They are mistaken. The second possibility: he didn’t realize the depth of the hole that he had dug himself into. This may be the surprise that applies more to people like us in the pew. When we look at the tally of sins, mortal and venial, how much did Jesus bear onto Himself at the cross? Take the hypothetical life of a very saintly person. We’ll cut this person a break and not count any sins of commission or omission until they are ten years old. Let’s say that they only commit one venial sin per day…a super saint for sure. At sixty years old, with February 29th s off for good behavior, they have a total of 365 x 50 = 18,250 sins. What a number! And that would be the best of us! Can you imagine what you and I are chalking up? Multiply that by the earth’s population throughout history and you get blown away at the unfathomable achievement of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! So, with a better appreciation of what God has done to forgive us, isn’t it reasonable that we should forgive our neighbor even to 7 x 70?
A few conclusions before we close. First, notice that, in this parable, there were in fact two judgement days for our unfortunate debtor. One when he begged and received mercy from the king the first time. The second when he was judged to be wicked and thrown into jail. If you have not yet come to Jesus as your Savior and Lord, you are living on borrowed time by the grace of God. As the Lord said, “…whoever does not believe is condemned already…” (John 3:18). Come to Jesus and let the blood of Christ cleanse you from all your sin (1 John 1:17). For the rest of us who have been forgiven by God, let’s act like it by forgiving each other from the heart. Forgiving is difficult because the harm done to us injures our pride. We’ve got to make the hard choice and stop saying, “Look what that person did to me.” Our reading in Romans 14:7-9 reminds us that it is not about us. We no longer live for ourselves. Whether we live or die, it’s about God! Let Him balance the scales! Let it go! Forgiving and being forgiven can be one of life’s greatest joys. It restores relationships. It marks you as a child of God. The biggest benefit of all: forgiveness sets you free! Free from sin’s power! Free to live! Free to love! God will help us in the struggle to be free forgiving people through faith in Jesus. Let us live in the assurance that if the Son set’s us free we shall be free indeed (John 8:36)!