Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Proper 19 of Series A (Matthew 18:21-35)

“Out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the eighteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. Dear friends in Christ: ten thousand talents. That is what the servant owed his King. Ten thousand talents. No normal king would ever let such a staggering debt accumulate. Ten thousand talents. A day laborer in ancient Israel would have to work approximately sixty million days to pay off that debt. Ten thousand talents. With a high wage, he could maybe take care of it in a thousand years. Ten thousand talents. This is your debt, your debt to God; Jesus isn’t exaggerating as He tells this parable, if anything, He is making it seem smaller than it actually is. Ten thousand talents. The debt that you owe God is obscenely huge, enormously large, greater than you can even comprehend. The servant heard the penalty: “Since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.” Even with such drastic measures, the king would only see a miniscule fraction of the debt paid back. And you? Even if God tosses you in hell for eternity, the debt will never be paid. In your sin, you owe your Creator more than you can even comprehend.

And we foolishly think we can pay it off! The servant is confronted with his staggering, ridiculous debt, and he tries to negotiate with his King. “So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’” He has been confronted with a debt that would take a day laborer sixty million days to pay, and all he asks for is patience? ‘Just give me some time—just a hundred and sixty thousand years; or just a thousand, if I get a really good job!’ He honestly thinks he can pay it off! This is the height of delusion, of foolishness, but yet, we do the same with God, don’t we? We do not understand the enormity of our debt; we think that it is something we can pay. Our natural inclination to work ourselves into heaven deceives us into thinking that a person can actually do it. Isn’t that what we are doing when we put faith in our works, when we base our confidence on the statement ‘I’ve lived a good life’? We think we can take care of it ourselves, that we can bargain with God, that He’ll somehow overlook our debt if we show up at church, if we raise good kids, if we serve on the city council or the fire department. We are fools; we just don’t get it, we do not grasp how great our debt is to God. ‘Just give me some time, God—I’ll pay it off!’

But we can’t. This debt we owe can never be paid off. Even an eternity in hell isn’t enough. The debt cannot go unpaid; it must be accounted for. Someone must pay; and you are on the hook. The creditor is calling, it is time to pay up, and if you can’t, then the debtors’ prison is open for eternity. If we truly understood the depth of our sin, if we comprehended that we owe a debt to the Creator of the universe that we could never pay, we would quit our foolish bargaining and simply cry out to God for mercy, as we did in the Introit this morning: “Hear my prayer, O Lord; give ear to my pleas for mercy! In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness! Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.” We would run to the altar of God, beat our breasts and with tears beg for mercy. But instead, we go through life never thinking of our debt, or, if we do realize what we owe God, we foolishly say, ‘I’ll take care of it—don’t worry, God, I’ll pay you back!’

Fortunately, the King doesn’t put up with our foolishness. “And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.” The servant foolishly asked for some time; the King gives far more than that. Moved by pity, the entire debt is cancelled, forgiven, eliminated. The servant is now free! We try to negotiate, we try to work our way into heaven, we foolishly think we can do something ourselves to pay the debt we owe to our God, but our eternal King wants nothing to do with it. He understands the enormity of our debt, even if we are fools and fail to grasp it ourselves. He looks upon us with pity, with compassion, with love.

His pity and compassion led Him to do something about our debt. The debt needed to be paid; God would not be a God of justice if He simply let us off the hook. No, the debt needed to be paid, but no ordinary human could ever pay the price. The only price that would suffice was His Son, Jesus Christ, true God from eternity. Only as true God could Jesus offer the sufficient price; only as true man could that price be offered in our place. In compassion, in pity, God sent His Son into this world to pay our debt, once and for all. The debt was enormous; the cost would be incredible. Christ would stand in our place even unto death, even facing the very wrath and abandonment of God upon that cross. We can scarcely comprehend our debt; it boggles the mind to consider Christ’s payment of it. On that cross, He not only suffered for your ten-thousand talent debt, He suffered for the debt of every human who had ever lived or ever will live. That is how precious His blood is! That is how much every drop is worth! He suffered an eternity of hell during those hours on the cross.

Your debt is now paid; Christ proved it when He walked out of the tomb, victorious over your jailers. With His resurrection, God turns to you and says, ‘You are forgiven.’ “And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.” Your debt is gone; it has been paid for, eliminated, wiped off the books forever. God saw your sin, He saw your debt, and He did not act in wrath, He acted in pity, in compassion. Now, for the sake of Christ, He forgives that debt. He considers the accounts closed, the matter done. There is nothing you need to do, no additional price needs to be paid. You are forgiven! God’s grace is more enormous that your sin, more overwhelming than your debt! You are reconciled with God; your debt has been paid, now and forever.

But the King isn’t the only one to whom debts are owed. The servants also owe each other. “But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe!’” A hundred denarii. The debts we owe each other are not insignificant; we are capable of sinning greatly against our fellow servants. A hundred denarii. That is about four months wages, around ten to fifteen thousand dollars today. A hundred denarii. Some of you are owed large debts; you know how much sin can hurt. A hundred denarii. This debt looks like a lot to our human eyes, but only if we have failed to grasp the enormity of our debt.

A hundred denarii isn’t pocket change, but it looks like pop machine money when set next to a debt of ten thousand talents. The servant failed to understand the enormity of his debt; now he fails to understand the enormity of the King’s forgiveness. He who has been forgiven so much, who has had an incredible, unpayable debt eliminated, refuses to forgive another. He foolishly holds against his neighbor a debt that for him been taken care of by the King’s pity and grace. He has been forgiven much; he refuses to forgive even a little. We all have others who owe us debts; some are quite large, of the one hundred denarii variety, but most are much smaller. However, every debt that is owed to us is miniscule, insignificant, when compared with the debt that has already been forgiven.

The King has little tolerance for those who have been forgiven yet refuse to forgive others. “Then his master summoned him and said to 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.” The King will not tolerate His grace being drug through the mud and treated as worthless. He understands the enormity of the debt that has been forgiven; He understands fully the price that was necessary to show His compassion. He cannot abide you or me despising the gift won by His Son’s precious blood, and so His wrath falls again on those who refuse to forgive.

We refuse to forgive because we do not grasp the enormity of God’s forgiveness for the sake of Christ; we don’t understand the greatness of our debt, so we don’t understand the greatness of His forgiveness. The most important step in forgiving others is receiving that forgiveness in all of its abundance. The King’s forgiveness comes first. If we do not come to this place and receive forgiveness, it is going to be very difficult to give forgiveness to others. We cannot give out what has not been first given to us. We view the debts of others in light of the infinitely greater debt that we have already been forgiven. Then, we remember that forgiveness is not a one-time thing. Peter asked, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” Forgiveness is a process, and like many things in this life, it takes time and it takes repetition. God, fortunately, doesn’t forgive us only once, but He forgives each and every week in the Divine Service, and each and every day in your baptismal life of repentance.

That’s a good thing, because we continue to accumulate debt, sinning against God and our neighbors, especially by withholding forgiveness. So we stand before Him as a debtor, each and every day, in the posture of humble repentance, and we lay before Him our every sin, even the sin of failing to forgive. And He responds with grace. “And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.” You are forgiven of your debt, and you are sent out into this world to extend that forgiveness to others, knowing that when you do this imperfectly, God’s grace is always greater than your sin. In this place you come before the King, and He forgives your debt, down to the last penny. In the Name of Jesus, who in compassion paid our debt, Amen.

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