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Proper 18 - Matthew 18:21-35
Here are some angles on the gospel text for September 15, 2002.
1. The text contains both a promise and a threat. Seventy-seven means infinity and points to the over-abundant grace of a forgiving God. All people live within that dominate spiritual environment.
But there is a threat. This is hard preaching by Jesus. Being forgiven, it is necessary to forgive. If not, there is eternal damnation.
But be very clear about this, the movement is from the relation with God to the relation with our neighbor. We live out the reality of our relation with God in our relations with those around us, those with whom we live and do our business, those with whom we have contact in any way.
2. Equity issues are clearly present in this text. The king fogives millions of dollars of debt (ten thousand talents), and then that forgiven slave refuses to forgive a small debt owed to himself. The amounts are not important so much as the recognition of being forgiven and living within that grace. The forgiven slave uses his good fortune to further his advantage over others. So the key question is how we use our fortunes, how we use the grace which has been lavishly bestowed upon us.
But it may be too easy to move to the threat before announcing the grace. Hard preaching always puts the grace first and tries in every way to enact that grace within the action of the sermon. The whole point of the parable is to encourage people to live out of the grace of God rather than the threat of damnation.
3. Note the subject matter of the parable: money, economics, relations among debtors. Jesus often uses economic relations in his parables. Yet preachers today rarely do. Most sermon illustrations I hear refer to situations in families; rarely is there a reference to economic matters. The text today invites the preacher to find illustrations and examples from within contemporary economic life.
And there is lots of material in the daily papers these days, corporate scandals, third world debt, globalization.
4. The parable is introduced by reference to Peter. If the preacher has focused on Peter in previous texts, this text invites a continuation of exploration of the character and role of Peter in the church.
He is clearly a leader if not the leader, the spokesperson of the disciples, the one who opens his mouth to speak even when he might be wiser to do otherwise.
This can engender a certain courage for the preacher today to do some hard preaching. We must open our mouths to speak knowing that forgiveness will be there for us even if we mess things up, like Peter so often did.
18:21 Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?"
18:22 Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
18:23 "For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.
18:24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him;
18:25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made.
18:26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.'
18:27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.
18:28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, 'Pay what you owe.'
18:29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.'
18:30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt.
18:31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.
18:32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.
18:33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?'
18:34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.
18:35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart."
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