Recent protests and social unrest in our country have given us a renewed appreciation for talking about sin publicly.
Twenty years ago, our social setting emphasized love and inclusivity. To talk about the sins of others or to call people out on their behavior was frowned on. It was considered unloving, intolerant, and not inclusive. Now, however, our country is vibrant in its public conversation about sin. It speaks not only of individual sins but also of corporate sins. It speaks not only of sins in the present but also sins of the past. Our world has suddenly discovered the height and the depth and the width and the breadth of sin.
Such a discovery is disheartening. Sin is so pervasive, so complex, so woven into our ways of life and being, that there is no quick fix or easy answer. Stores burn, statues topple, friends and families divide, and people die as everyone struggles to figure out what to do.
Sin is so pervasive, so complex, so woven into our ways of life and being, that there is no quick fix or easy answer.
That is why it is such a blessing to have this parable before us today. When the world is speaking about sin, Jesus comes and speaks to us of forgiveness. Through this parable, Jesus calls us to a deeper appreciation of the height and depth, the width and breadth of forgiveness and perhaps that is just what we need.
It is odd to think that Jesus still needs to teach us about forgiveness. With Scripture’s emphasis on God’s steadfast love, on His faithfulness, on His desire that no one perish... with our liturgical emphasis on God’s coming to us in the waters of baptism, in the words of absolution, in the sacrament of the altar, it is strange to think we might need to listen once more to Jesus as He talks about forgiveness. But we do.
Too often, we have let forgiveness become an individualistic matter. We know our sins and we confess them before God. God proclaims His forgiveness through the crucified and risen Christ who has taken away our sin. We stand before God forgiven. Too often, however, we have limited our experience of forgiveness to that momentary experience. This parable of Jesus breaks those limits for us.
In this parable, notice how Jesus invites us to consider that forgiveness is something more than a moment. It is a way of grace that extends throughout an entire kingdom. Yes, it creates the relationship you have with your master, but it also shapes the relationship you have with others, and the life you lead in His Kingdom.
A master calls a servant to account. He has a debt he cannot pay. His entire life is threatened. He could be put in prison, his property liquidated, his wife and children sold. His life is in his master’s hands. This servant is not a slacker. He does not make excuses and he does not ask for mercy. He asks for patience. As unreasonable as it sounds, he will work as hard as he can to pay back this debt.
But the master has a different vision. The master wants to bring him into a new kind of kingdom. Not a kingdom where you pay your debts but a kingdom where your debts are paid. The master forgives the servant his debt and, from now on, this servant will live in a kingdom ruled by mercy, where debts are paid by the deepfelt compassion of the master.
The master wants to bring him into a new kind of kingdom. Not a kingdom where you pay your debts but a kingdom where your debts are paid.
As the servant goes out into the world, however, he no longer sees himself as living in that kingdom. Once he leaves the master’s sight, he enters a world where he believes debts need to be paid. Coming upon another servant who owes him money, he threatens to throw him into prison. When faced with a plea for patience, he responds with cries for justice and demands he be paid.
We often call this parable, “The unforgiving servant.” The problem, however, is not just that the servant is unforgiving. The problem is the servant is clueless. When he received forgiveness from his master, he entered a different kingdom. It is a place where sins are forgiven. When he went out into the world, however, he refused to live in that kingdom. For him, forgiveness was a single transaction before his master, not a life-changing experience. It was something that could be set aside, not something through which he always lived.
Unfortunately, we can fall into the same problem. Sometimes we limit forgiveness to a personal experience of God’s grace in one moment in time. We are baptized, receive absolution, partake of the Lord’s Supper, but that forgiveness is seen only as a moment; something you experience in church. It is not seen as something you live through as you enter into your Savior’s world. Forgiveness changes your world. When God forgives you on account of Christ, he brings you into a kingdom that reaches to the ends of the earth and lasts to the end of time.
When God forgives you on account of Christ, he brings you into a kingdom that reaches to the ends of the earth and lasts to the end of time.
Forgiveness is not just a momentary experience, a get-out-of-jail-free card that gives us the opportunity to go out and work harder to accomplish our salvation. No, forgiveness is a life-changing event. It changes who we are. Suddenly, we discover we are not servants managing our money but children of God who live in His Kingdom where grace never ends. Sure, we can go back to the kingdom where you pay your debts… but who would ever want to do that?
Our world’s conversation about sin can be frustrating. It can bring you to your knees in confession or solidarity. It can sap you of strength or overwhelm you with activity. But if you listen only to this conversation, you are missing out on something God is doing – forgiving sins. God has forgiven your sins in Christ and now He calls you, frees you, and sends you to forgive the sins of others.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 18: 21-35.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 18:21-35.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. John Nordling of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Matthew 18: 21-35.