How many times?

The hardest thing about putting my thoughts down on today’s gospel was deciding where to begin. Is today’s lesson about how much God loves us or how much we are supposed to love others?

Somehow starting with 77 times or even 70 times 7 doesn’t seem to do either question justice. That would be somewhere between 77 and 490 times that we expect the Lord to forgive us and, telling you from personal experience, that would be no where enough.

So maybe it would be easier to start by focusing on to the first part of the parable. The story of the King and his servant. We can all relate to that one time that our visa bill got out of control. The idea that City Bank would call us in and threaten us and our family is almost as ludicrous as the thought that they would let us go debt free if we were to beg for mercy.

But we are not talking about City Bank, we are talking about the Lord our God. In Isaiah 54 we hear, “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” So, I guess if we believe in his unfailing love then His forgiveness of all of our debt should not come as such a big surprise.

In the letter of Paul to the Romans, chapter 5 we hear, “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Even the Holy Spirit gets into this forgiving our debts thing because He has been given to us.

And finally, in Romans 8, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The first part of the parable is laid out as a statement of fact, not just a story. God loves us unquestionably, undeservedly, unshakenlingly. And, of course, we love Him back the same way…… Just as much, just as unwaveringly. I don’t know about you, but I could use some work in that department. And let’s not even get started in on the second part of the parable.

There is a song out now, by Casting Crows, called Start right here. At one part of the song the lyrics go, “What if the church on Sunday,
Was still the church on Monday too?
What if we came down from our towers
And walked a mile in someone’s shoes?

The idea that we begin the week anew on Monday morning and forget what has been forgiven just 24 hours before. In the parable, “When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused.”

Clearly, this parable from Jesus has nothing to do with the payment of personal loans. This is not “Managing your debts 101” this all about how we are to treat on another. The gospel passage ends with the warning, “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.” But how do we do that. Peter asked for an answer and was given a mathematical equation. The rich man asked for what he should do and was disappointed that it would cost so much. The woman at the well asked for an explanation and was told of a way to quench her thirst. The answer is there, in part, in all of those but perhaps John said it best in 1 John 4:9-12

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

MT 18:21-35

Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive him?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who decided to settle accounts with his servants.
When he began the accounting,
a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back,
his master ordered him to be sold,
along with his wife, his children, and all his property,
in payment of the debt.
At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’
Moved with compassion the master of that servant
let him go and forgave him the loan.
When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a much smaller amount.
He seized him and started to choke him, demanding,
‘Pay back what you owe.’
Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
But he refused.
Instead, he had him put in prison
until he paid back the debt.
Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened,
they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master
and reported the whole affair.
His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?’
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”

March 22, 2022

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