Published on Saturday, 22 October 2011 11:37

Exodus 14:19-31
Psalm 114
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 18:21-35
Homilist: Mel Campbell

Maria Mayo suggests that the Old Testament seems to focus mainly on God's forgiveness of individuals or groups. In contrast the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels also addresses how human beings can and should forgive each other.

In Jesus' first-century context, forgiveness had concrete implications. The Greek word translated as "forgive" in the New Testament, carried a wide range of meanings, including to remit (a debt), to leave (something or someone) alone, to allow (an action), to leave, to send away, to desert or abandon, and even to divorce.

Ms Mayo points out that the Greek word, for forgive, ah FEE-ay-mee, appears 146 times in the New Testament, but it is translated in most English versions as "forgive" only 38 of those times. Considering the entire range of meanings of this word gives us some indication of what "forgiveness" might have meant to listeners in Jesus' first-century context as compared with our 21st century thinking. Now my problem is, with my very limited knowledge of the original Greek and only a cursory insight into 1st century culture, is to bring some practicality to one of the texts this morning.


I see forgiveness having both implicit and explicit components, when you are sinned against and when you sin against another. Some examples:


The story of the woman caught in adultery seems to be the very height of implicit forgiveness by Jesus. He said neither do I condemn you, go and sins no more. As far as the woman was concerned she undoubtedly felt that was forgiven, even though the word, ‘forgive’, is not used. Can we forgive a person without actually saying I forgive you? I hope so. Words can be so easily spoken, but actions can go a long way to telling a person that you harbor no resentment and in fact they are forgiven.

There are three components to forgiveness after the sins has been committed against you. Luke 17 gives the formula for explicit forgiveness. First you need to confront the person, or in the words of Jesus, rebuke the person. Second they need to repent of the sin against you. And finally you are now in a position yea required to forgive. I can’t think of a time in my life that these three steps have been played out.

Implicit forgiveness needs to occur when you have sinned or more put more mildly put wronged another and you didn’t know it. How do you do about correcting the wrong you did, but didn’t know you did it? Again I guess is how you relate to that person, your acceptance of them and subsequent interaction with them.

Jesus proclaimed while on the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Forgiving someone that hurts or sins against you out of ignorance is easier to accomplish, than to forgive someone who knowing hurts you. But that is probably cared for in the forgiveness parable of Matt 18. It deals with explicit sins and explicit forgiveness with all its consequences and implications.

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Now I am not sure if that is actually 77 times or 70 times 7, at any rate that is huge number of times we are to forgive one another. Jesus did not state what sins meant were worthy of our forgiveness. Isn’t it safe to assume that these sins would be a violation of the last 6 commandments which deal with your interaction with one another? Dishonoring parents, killing, adultery, rape, coveting, lies about a person . . . but what about just a cutting remark?

Jesus’ word tells me that forgiveness is not a one-time occurrence, but rather forgiveness is an on-going attitude toward others who sin against us, whatever the sin happens to be. Saying sorry once is not enough! If I could just say once I forgive you and that would care for things it would be psychologically and emotional very comforting, but I need to be in a state of forgiveness. Something like praying without ceasing so forgiving without ceasing.

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him.

You know that a one huge bundle of money regardless of the amount of gold in each bag! I know that we can’t begin to calculate the worth of that much gold. If we try to estimate the value by using the price of today’s gold it would boggle our minds. But the question I have is that what line of credit must the servant have had to justify the king awarding him that kind of money. Putting that amount of money in the hands of a servant is a financial melt down just waiting to happen. Perhaps that is the very reason for including that huge among in the parable. Anyone let alone a servant could never repay an amount once spent. And sure enough the predictable happened.

25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

Now I doubt that the value of a servant, plus his wife, plus his family, plus his houses and lands wouldn’t add up to 10,000 bags of gold. The servant knew that he had been had, so . . .

26 “he fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’

What else could he say? He knew there was no way he could pay back that kind of money. He was now begging for his life saying, “I will pay back everything”. Well the king must have known better so . . .

27 He took pity on him, and made this announcement, which must have pleased the servant very much, “canceled the debt and let him go.”

Now here is where the plot thickens.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

A hundred silver coins compared with 10,000 bags of gold—chicken feed!

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

He used the same words while on his knees as the previous servant had used and with great success. Perhaps he had even heard or had been told of the action and words. If it worked for 10,000 bags of gold surely it would work for a measly 100 silver coins! But it wasn’t to be.

30 “He refused to forgive. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.

Not quite sure how the man could pay off his debt while in a debtors prison, but such was the reasoning of moneylenders!

31When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed, all 10,000 bags of gold!

It seems to me he was an impossible truly under water. He would rot in jail!

It appears that the initial forgiveness of the debt of 10000 bags of gold was conditional. Here we are not talking about stealing from the king over and over again for which the 70 time 7 rule of forgiveness may just apply, but we are dealing with a situation in which forgiveness is not extended to another human being while at the same time living in a state of forgiveness. And now here is how Jesus concludes the story.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Here is what I take from this parable and its conclusion. Forgiveness is an on-going experience in our lives and forgiveness from God is conditional. Haven’t we prayed every week here at the liturgical service for the past 17 years, asking God to forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sins against us! Thinking about that is some pretty stiff spiritual medicine to swallow—grace not withstanding! And speaking of grace, could we extent this to grace as well. On the strength of this parable of Jesus it would seems that the marvelous grace of our loving Lord is only in effect when we are gracious to others . . . hummm beginning to sound like works? In that you have done it unto the least of these you have done it unto me. Something to think about as we listen to the pastor read the Blessing for today.