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Archive for September 19th, 2017

Forgiveness | A QUESTION JESUS NEVER ASKED... "HOW MANY TIMES SHOULD I FORGIVE MY BROTHER?" | image tagged in mercy | made w/ Imgflip meme makerToday’s Gospel reading is the dramatic ending of chapter 18, Jesus’ Sermon on forgiveness. In the first portion of chapter 18, Jesus teaches us 24/7 urgent care for sinners, for the little ones, for the one lost sheep.  He taught us we can all be lost at one time or another. It is 24/7 forgiveness as there is no Sabbath day of rest from forgiveness.

We learned again of the Lord’s passion to search for the children and the little ones, that our Father in heaven does not want even one of his little ones to perish.  We learned that temptation is hard but worse is to be tempter and cause one of the little ones who believe in Jesus to stumble, It would be better if the tempter would be thrown in the depths of the oceans with a millstone around his neck. We learned again of the Lord, the Good Shepherd searching high and low for the one lost sheep of 100, in search of the one percent till he found it.  We learned again of the Lord’s joy, with all the heavenly host,  in the one being found.  We learned again of the Gospel discipline of talking with a brother who has sinned against you so the brother may be gained. One to one, if he listens you have gained your brother. If he does not, then bring 2 or 3 witnesses and if he listens you have gained your brother. If he does not listen, then tell it to the church and if he does not listen to the church, then the brother is be treated as a Gentile and tax collector: three strikes and you’re out!  But that is not necessarily the end of the story, as we see in the conclusion today of our Lord’s Sermon on Forgiveness.

Way back in Genesis 4: 23-24,  it is reported that Cain, the very one who murdered his brother Abel, and his grandson, five times great grandson, Lamech boasted to his wives:

“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say:
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for striking me.
24 If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold,
then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.”

Lamech struts his stuff, his macho swagger, in front of his wives. He presents vengeance as a positive role model to be emulated.  Lamech killed a man for wounding him.  He boasts his vengeance infinitely exceeding Cain’s murdering of his brother, the first murder in history. Besides Matthew 18, this is the only time I know of when “70 times 7” is used and it is Lamech’s never ending revenge. Jesus may have evoked this with Peter when Peter asked how many times should I forgive my brother: seven times?  Peter may have thought he was being quite liberal since some of the rabbis taught 3 times.  Jesus ups the number to as many times the brother sins and hears again the Lord and his brother. So what happens when the 3 or 7 times is up?  He’ll deserve his comeuppance.  No says Jesus, not never ending revenge, but enduring and never ending forgiveness which poured out from God through God, The Father through His Son, true God and true man in His death and resurrection.

We have watched stories whose fictional characters talk about their desire to have God-like power.  What would you do if you were God?  The answer usually is the God-like power to crush our enemies, those who have wronged us.  I want my enemies to perish and God came to forgive His and the Bible is clear, while we were enemies, Christ died for us.  the Lord forgives them in their joyful repentance knowing we are lost and He has found us.   So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish (Matthew 18).  

When imagining God-like power, the last thing that comes to mind is to forgive as He has forgiven us.  Maybe the whole point of Genesis are these next to last verses in the first book of the Bible.  Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers some 20-30 years before.  It is .about family and family revenge is too familiar.  Police say the worse call is domestic disturbance.  In the last chapters of Genesis, his brothers come to Egypt looking for grain because of famine. Joseph, now Zaphenath-paneah, is next to Pharoah in power and authority.  The brothers do not recognize him…I could go on about Joseph.  The narrative of Joseph is worth a several re-reads.  IN today’s Old Testament reading, the brothers ask for Joseph’s forgiveness and they are like the servant in the Lord’s parable:  what debt those brothers held!  They sold their brother into slavery, instead of their first desire to kill him, lied to their father Jacob that Joseph had been killed.  And in the lesson for today, Joseph clearly, as next to Pharoah, has God-like powers:  he could destroy them in vengeance.  He asks a very good question to his brothers:  “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?”  Note he has to tell them not to fear because he won’t, he can’t, as a member of the covenant, wield his terrible power.  The answer is No, I am not in the place of God.  Yet, in another sense, Joseph is in the place of God, when he forgives his brothers.  Joseph’s tears are not the bitter tears of anger, but the longing joyful tears of forgiveness as Joseph was in the Lord’s forgiveness.

He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

The slave who was forgiven a debt he could never pay back just like Joseph’s brothers who for all those years were in the guilt of their sin. The servant, also translated as “slave”, given the amount of money he owed would take him  60,000,000 days to pay off the debt. Sold into slavery, this would insure imprisonment for at least a 1,000 years. Purgatory is a pious joke and lie that we can pay off the debt, pay off the Lord who forgives us our debts. It is so true when we confess, we have justly deserved temporal and eternal punishment. The servant in the Lord’s parable tried the art of the deal with his master by his feeble promise to pay him back. “It is important to note that the master in the parable initially treats the first servant better than he deserved and better than he asked to be treated.” (Gibbs).  So it goes but the grace of God for each of us.

The master had mercy on him and King pitied him and forgave him his debt.  The translation Forgive us our debts, states it well.  The king of his kingdom forgave him such a great debt, just like that out of his mercy.  This resonates in every Christian’s heart, and more when we know again of Christ Jesus’ amazing grace  and so it should for our brother who owes us, as we forgive our debtors. 

The forgiven slave, the freed slave sees his “fellowslave” (rare word in the Greek used I think only here and is one word), owes him 100 denarii, a goodly sum about several month’s wages. The ratio of the debt to the “hundred denarii” to the unforgiving servant is approximately 600,000 to one (Gibbs). The fellowslave asks, pleads for forgiveness on his knees to the first servant, but he does not forgive.  This parable is also called the parable of the wicked servant.  A wicked servant is one who does not forgive.  He throws his brother into prison.  The Lord’s parable today is one of the only ones that ends on a judgmental note. Not to forgive your brother from your heart is almost unforgiveable. Our disposition to forgiveness in Christ Jesus is nurtured by the Lord’s forgiveness of us, of praying for our enemies, of those who have wronged us and to pray the Lord’s prayer, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. How great my debt to Thee, how greater your love to me and help my brother to see.

The game show, “Family Feud” has two families face off to see if they can guess the answers that a studio audience of a hundred top answers to a question.  Like, Who is the greatest American president?

On one show a question was, Who is most likely in hell?  Of course, the top answer was…Hitler. 

Anyway, that question is just a variant of the perennial one who was the worst sinner that ever lived? Hitler is usually number one, Judas gets on top 10, so does Stalin, etc., etc.  I do have an answer that may surprise you:  the worse sinner who ever lived was Jesus Christ.  He became a thief, a murderer, an adulterer, an idolater and the like as He bore the sin of world in His sinless body. “He became sin” the Bible tells us. Jesus was tempted in every way that we are but is without sin, as God’s Word also tells us. He was absolutely pure yet bore our sins in Himself thus becoming, in a sense, the worse sinner who ever, ever lived. The debt of the servant was upon Jesus and  the debt of us all which would make the unforgiving servant’s debt pale in comparison.

John the Baptizer was incredulous that Jesus came to him to be baptized in a baptism of repentance.  John knew he needed Jesus to baptize him. John knew who he was!  No says, Jesus this is to fulfill all righteousness, the righteousness of God by which He justifies, makes right those who cannot in a million lifetimes self-justify (cf.Matthew 18:21-35).  

In response to the question, who is the worse sinner, no one ever says, Oh, yeah, that would be me.  I like the discussion of who is the worse sinner because it makes me feel good, I’m not so bad…not as bad as Adolph Hitler!  St. Paul jumped in with the right answer, I am the chief of sinners.  Paul knew that could not make himself right.  He knew that account of Jesus Christ, He made him right by grace received in faith.  Further note that when one discovers the  wrong by what was thought, said or did, there is no escaping, like deer caught in the headlights.  The overwhelming flood of feeling is I am the worse. It’s like the weight of the world is on you. “I can’t believe what I did”.  Believe it, says the Lord, and believe Me ever and always.  This is the beginning of contrition, sorrow over sin and believe My Son, My Christ.  He was circumcised when He did not need to be. He  was immersed into a baptism of repentance He did not need, baptized into a baptism of repentance He did not need so the need of forgiveness is fulfilled, all righteousness, so that you can repent and be saved, washed, as if all over again.

The wages of sin is death and Jesus did not receive the minimum wage, but all the wages, all our debt, once and for all.  The free gift is eternal life so we can live free in our Baptism ever turning toward Him, and ever listening to our brother when he says, forgive me, for the sake of the Beloved Son (cf. Matthew 3: 13-17), our brother Jesus the Christ, as His beloved children in our Baptism in the Name of the Father, and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit (cf. Matthew 26, Romans 6: 1-11).

 

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