15th Sunday after Pentecost
September 13, 2020
“Are You in Debt? Of Course You Are…Or Not.”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the Gospel lesson previously read from Matthew chapter 18.
My dear friends,
Wild stab here…how many of you have debt? Maybe you owe some money yet on your home. Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you owe some money on your car. Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you owe money on credit cards or a long-term loan or maybe you’re still paying on your student loans. Or maybe you’re not. Regardless of what kind of debt you may or may not have, wouldn’t it be so nice to have all that debt cancelled? Have all that debt erased and all forgiven, never to be spoken of again. How nice would that be, right? Well…that’s what today’s Gospel lesson is about more than forgiveness – it is also forgiving debt and never speaking of it again.
Jewish tradition in Jesus’ day was to forgive a debt only on condition, like not forgiving someone until they apologized. And often with forgiveness came a price: the transgressor had to make it up to you somehow. Also, you were only obliged to forgive somebody the same sin 3 times. That being the case, in our text, Peter seems to be showing incredible generosity, offering to forgive the same sin 7 times, which is a lot in Peter’s day.
But what Jesus says is counter-cultural, which was nothing new for our Lord. He wanted people to think of the ways of God, not the ways of man. Jesus advocated that we forgive the same sin (depending on the translation) either “seventy times seven” or “seventy seven” (v 22). The point is, God’s not counting. He means freely forgiving all the time and with NO condition. Think about it: every single time – endlessly – forgiving that person who speaks harshly to you, who talks about you behind your back, cuts you off in traffic, the person who really “pushes all your buttons,” instantly treating him or her as if each time is the first offence and then, once the wrong is forgiven, to never speak of it again? That falls under the category of “easier said than done,” right?!
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus explains this difficult teaching using a parable about a man in debt…MASSIVE debt. 10,000 Talents? According to the Jewish historian Josephus, the total tax revenue for Judea, Samaria, Galilee, and Berea for one year amounted to only 900 talents or roughly 220 million dollars in modern US currency. In the parable, one servant’s debt is 10,000 talents. A talent was not a coin, it was a unit of a measure of weight – 62 pounds troy – and was always applied to something of value like gold or silver. If Matthew was referring to gold as the base, then using the price for gold this week, 10,000 talents of gold would be in excess of 1.5 billion US dollars! At my current salary, I would have to work for more than 200,000 years to pay that off! It was an amount that would have reminded the original audience of the massive wealth of ancient Egypt or Persia. By comparison, the second debtor in the parable owes 100 denarii which is 100 day’s wages or about $10,000.
The king, out of pity, forgave and forgot that enormous, huge, massive debt of the first servant…a debt that he couldn’t re-pay in 1000 lifetimes. But, when the forgiven servant had the chance to extend that same pity to someone else, he refused and had his fellow servant thrown in debtor’s prison. How absurd for one forgiven of so much to refuse to forgive so little! The news of this injustice reached the king who summoned the forgiven servant and confronted him. “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt” (v. 32-34).
Ever notice how some churches – including ours – look like courtrooms? Courtrooms are not nice places to be! I’ve been there. They are intimidating and scary. This is no accident. So also, when we come to worship we “approach” the Judge with our debt of sin…our MASSIVE debt of sin…and beg Him to have mercy on us and forgive us. Thankfully, God doesn’t grab us by the throat and choke us as in the parable. No, because of Jesus, God forgives us, announcing to each of us personally, “I forgive you all your sins.” Completely. Totally. Forgiven and forgotten. Never to be spoken of again.
There is a condition, though. There is a price, and it’s a price we could never pay. Instead, Jesus pays the debt of our sin with His life. Jesus takes our place under the judgment of God. He takes our place as the guilty criminal in the courtroom. He takes our place on that instrument of execution which is the cross. We who are guilty are declared innocent, as God’s Son, Jesus, who really is innocent, is declared guilty—a marvelous and beautiful exchange. And because of that great act of sacrificial love, we approach the Judge every week, every day, every hour, and are continually, freely forgiven. The courtroom is no longer a place of terror and judgment, but a place of celebration, as we rejoice in our forgiven debt. As repentant, believing sinners, we no longer need to fear condemnation when we approach His holy throne but instead we approach and hear mercy, grace, love, joy and peace.
I know it’s often difficult to forgive, yet the remarkable thing about Jesus is that He forgives us even for the times we don’t perfectly forgive others! This forgiveness in turn gives us a remarkable strength to forgive others. God gives you the strength and ability to forgive. Mercy is not giving to a person what they deserve. Grace is giving to a person what they don’t deserve. Mercy and Grace are extended to us by God so that our sin debt is forgiven and forgotten. The expectation is that we will do the same for our fellow sinners…our fellow servants.
Are you in debt? Of course you are…or you were. I don’t know about financially, but you were in debt to sin. But not anymore. Because of Jesus, God has removed your transgressions “as far as the east is from the west” (Ps 103:12). Now that’s far! You may still have financial debts, but your debt with God is canceled…forgiven…forgotten. It is “Paid in Full” by the blood of Jesus Christ and in the waters of your Baptism. What you do as a result of the forgiveness that you have in Christ Jesus is now up to you.