Then His Master Summoned Him

Text: Matthew 18:21-35
Date: Pentecost XV (Proper 19A) + 9/17/17

Now, wait a minute! “And in anger his master delivered him to the jailer, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your hearts.” Wait a minute! “This is the Gospel of the Lord”? No. This is NOT the Gospel of the Lord! This is threatening Law, bad news, not good news. So again You are coming down on us about forgiveness! “Matthew 18, Matthew 18!” they shout. First You tell us unless we become like children we will not enter the kingdom. Like children we are to act like and admit that we’re dependent on You for everything, like a child. Then we’re commanded to bring forgiveness to everyone who might be falling away. Now today it’s forgiveness again. What? Haven’t we done enough forgiveness yet that we have to hear about it over and over and over again? “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Well then how about 70? No? Then 490? No. Now You tell us a parable that says literally we are to forgive other people “gazillions” of times.[1]

I know. I know what You say is true. First, that my sin is so astronomical that there is no way to pay You back, to pay it off. I watched the new Luther movie last Tuesday night and was reminded how this drove the Reformer crazy he felt so guilty and helpless. Then I know and believe that when You say that Jesus Christ Your Son died for all sin, the sin of the world, His blood on the cross the full payment of our iniquity, His blood the wiping away of our full debt to You, His gift, Your gift given to us simply by faith in Your promise. Lord, “I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

So I can believe the first part of Your parable, that You are our Master who, in Your compassion, have “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim 1:10), through the full forgiveness of our sins.

Yes, then I can even believe the truth of the second part of Your parable, how we, all of us, even though we have received Your forgiveness are so ungrateful that we refuse that same gift to others even though it is ours to give, even though You command us to forgive as we have been forgiven. We know what that feels like when all we want to do is take someone by the throat and demand payback. Even though the other person pleads with us using the exact same words we use with You over and over every Sunday, “Lord, have mercy upon us; Christ, have mercy upon us; Lord, have mercy upon us.” But we refuse to echo those other words, those words that alone give us hope, “Upon this, your confession,” then You graciously look us right in the face and say, “I forgive you all your sins.” We agree with the hymn calling it “Amazing Grace.”

But now, do You really mean that You can reverse Yourself, take away Your forgiveness and condemn us to hell anyway? “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

I know You know who You’re talking about, who I’m thinking about…right now…. Isn’t it enough if I at least say the words, “I forgive him,” “I forgive her,” even though we’d still like to choke them? We won’t, of course, But…. What’s the answer?

Back to the beginning. “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” To turn means to repent. To become like children means to become obedient to Your heart of compassion. We do repent of our sin including the sin of refusing to forgive the other dirty fellow. We even repent every Lord’s Day and through our baptism every day, daily dying in Christ. Okay. We can do that. But what about that second power of baptism, that “a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before [You] in righteousness and purity forever”? What about giving me the power to forgive?

“Forgive our sins as we forgive,”
You taught us, Lord, to pray;
But You alone can grant us grace
To live the words we say. (LSB 843)

That’s the hard part, “to live the words we say.” So all we can do right now is pray the words You gave us in the psalm,

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:10-12)

A willing spirit. That’s what was missing in the second servant of Your parable. That’s what’s missing in us. That’s what’s missing in me. Lord, fill me with Your forgiveness and then make me willing to “forgive those who trespass against us.”

[1] “ten thousand talents.”