*The video of the sermon begins at 20:14 above
“Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?”
I did an unscientific poll on Facebook this week where I asked people why they think we can be so unwilling to forgive. Responses varied. “Because unforgiveness allows us to maintain the illusion that we are in control.” “It’s easier to be angry than to admit we have been hurt.” Because forgiveness means that, “we have to confront the person who wronged us and work to find reconciliation.” “Because one has to learn to accept forgiveness before one can learn to reflect the same.” Forgiveness is hard.
Peter knows that instinctively. In our gospel reading this morning Jesus has just told the disciples how to handle grievances in the family of faith. Because look, whether you’re part of a family or a church family we’re going to grieve one another. We’re going to hurt one another. We’re going to sin against one another. So, Jesus gives them the blueprints for reconciliation.
And what’s the very first question on Peter’s mind? “OK, but how often do I have to do this?” I love that. Peter’s concerned with keeping the books balanced, as if accounting was the language of God’s kingdom. He wants to know the bare minimum that’s required of him. How many times do I need to forgive until I’ve done my duty.
That’s us, isn’t it? If he does something to hurt me that’s got to be accounted for! You owe me. You’re in my debt. Scores need settling! And so because Peter and you and I persist in thinking in terms of accounting Jesus tells a story about money.
One day a king decided to settle accounts. And on the day of reckoning one of his servants that owed him hundreds of thousands of dollars was brought in. Now, the debt was so big, so crushing, that there was no way he could ever pay it back. So, what did he do? He fell to his knees and pleaded with the king and to his surprise and joy the king had compassion on him and forgave the debt. Poof. Gone. Can you imagine?
Imagine, for example, being a young graduate saddled with $150,000 worth of debt, plus interest. Now imagine that someone with the power to erase that debt did so. Imagine the freedom. Imagine the joy. Imagine the hope for the future.
That’s what God has done for you. Think about it this way. Suppose you come to visit and as you pull into the driveway you side swipe my beautiful 2006 Toyota Corolla and cause $1,000 worth of damage. You’re very apologetic and I’m super compassionate so I look at you and say, “You know what, I forgive you. Don’t worry about it.” What happens to the $1,000 worth of damage? It doesn’t just go away. I take it.
That’s the message of the cross. Rather than settle the score God takes the consequences of your sin, and the sin of the whole world, on himself. And that’s good news because we were up to our eyeballs in sin, drowning in debt, unable even to pay the interest. But God made a way when Jesus went to the cross.
Consider the words of the psalmist this morning. “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” He does not give us what we deserve. What does he do instead? “As far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.” How far is the east from the west? Infinitely far! That’s the degree to which he’s removed your sin from you.
Now imagine that young graduate whose student debt had just been forgiven turning around and harassing his buddy over $30 that he owed him for golf last week? That would be insane, wouldn’t it? We’d want to grab that young man by the collar and shake him: “Are you kidding me? Have you no comprehension of the magnitude of what you’ve been forgiven? Shouldn’t you show mercy to him after receiving mercy yourself?”
Forgiveness is hard. That’s why Jesus tells this story because he knows that the only way any of us are going to be able to extend forgiveness to each other is if we first begin to comprehend the extent to which God has forgiven us. You see, God never asks us to give others what he hasn’t first given us.
God has staked everything on forgiveness. His whole promise to restore the world depends on forgiveness. Forgiveness is a signpost in this world that points to the possibility, the inevitability, of another world where mercy, not vengeance, rules. Every time you forgive someone it’s a sign that another world is not only possible but on the way.
This morning Jesus is inviting you to know the joy of his forgiveness. He wants that joy to sink deep into your heart and mind so that it animates your whole life. He wants you to enjoy the freedom of being forgiven. You are free. Free to forgive others as you have been forgiven. Free to put an end to the cycle of vengeance. Free to lay down your moral scorekeeping and embrace God’s mercy.