22nd Sunday after Trinity + Matthew 18:23-35 + October 16, 2016
Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
Collect for Trinity XXII
Sermon on the Holy Gospel
Introit - Pg. 81
Collect for Trinity XXII
O God, our Refuge and Strength, Who art the Author of all godliness, be ready, we beseech Thee, to hear the devout prayers of Thy Church, and grant that those things which we ask faithfully we may obtain effectually; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Sermon on the Holy Gospel
Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1) A King desires to settle debts with His servants. He calls them in one by one. The first to come before Him is a man so hopelessly in debt that he will never realistically be able to pay off what he owes. A talent was a weight of coin, which could run somewhere between fifteen-hundred and two thousand dollars. That would make his total debt somewhere between fifteen and twenty million dollars! This servant of the king owes a crushing debt. Even by today’s standards, in a society which seeks to drive people into debt, this is an unfathomable amount of money he owes. Against this enormous and massive debt, the only collateral he had is himself, his wife, and his children. This man’s debt is so overwhelming that he realistically only has one option: a life of slavery to repay his debt. “As he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made.”
2) In this we see a terrible picture of the debt we owe God the heavenly Father. Ours is the debt of sin. And it is a great debt, one that we could never hope to repay. Like the man in the parable, we have no collateral to offer to the Lord because we daily sin, often without even realizing it, and often we fall to temptation out of weakness. Some people will, of course, try to weasel out of the whole transaction and claim that their debt isn’t the much, or that they have no debt before God at all. But before the Lord sin is sin and as St. James teaches, “Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). The Scriptures teach us that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Human experience teaches us this as well, so much that even those who are unreligious can excuse their actions with a pity, “no one’s perfect.” Like a growing credit card balance accruing interest, the debt of sin can be ignored, but this great spiritual debt will eventually come due.
3) This debtor in the parable, when faced with a life of slavery for himself and his loved ones, “fell down before him, saying ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’” He knows he can’t actually do that. He is pleading for any sort of mercy that the King is willing to give. If the King agrees in principle for some sort of payment plan, the man’s life, along with the life of his wife and children, has been spared. He seeks mercy from the king and finds it. The king he petitions is the same one who said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). He seeks patience and that is exactly what he finds, though to a much greater degree than he had hoped! He begged for the King’s patience so that he could find a way to repay the debt. The King shows His graciousness by foregoing patience altogether and instead fully cancels what the man owes. The man pled to be a debtor for the rest of his life, working off the debt. The King would have none of that. He removes the terrible burden from this man’s ledger and mind. The master “was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.” If this man’s debt shows us the great depth of our sin and our own inability to make restitution for it, the King’s clemency shows us an even greater picture of the grace of God, who through His gospel richly and daily forgives all the sins of those who ask for it in faith. Jesus makes the debt in the parable so unfathomable and so unrepayable not only to plumb the depths of our sin against God’s commandments, but also to show us how gracious God the heavenly Father is. No debt is too large for him to forgive. No sin, or collection of sins, is so great that it is unpardonable.
4) This by itself would make for a rich parable. We could, and should, spend our lifetimes contemplating both the depth of our sin and “the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7). In fact, that is what the man in the parable did NOT do. Leaving the king’s presence, the incredible debt lifted from his soul, his life his own once again, he forgets all that has just happened. He forgets that he was, just a moment ago, a debtor headed for destruction. He forgets the incredible graciousness and forgiveness of his king. And putting both of those things out of his mind he finds himself in an interesting position. Moments ago he had been a debtor. Suddenly he finds himself in the place of the king. He sees a man who owes him one hundred denarii, which is a pittance compared to what he previously owed the king. The former debtor grabs his fellow servant by the throat and demands payment. He found himself in the same position as the king just a few moments before, except there was no compassion, no charity, no warmth of spirit and generosity. The former debtor was possessed by selfishness and self-righteousness. He feels enabled to not only confront this fellow servant whom he stumbled upon, but rough him up as well. He tosses his fellow servant into the debtor’s prison “till he should pay the debt.” The former debtor was so calloused and cold to the king’s graciousness that he did not even hear the echo of his own plea for mercy in this man’s plea.
5) This shows us the callous way that many treat the forgiveness of their sins. They lament their sins. They wish to be rid of the guilt they have accumulated from their bad decisions and relapses due to weakness. They receive with joy the gospel that forgives all their sins. But then they go back to their daily life and live as if they never had such a great debt that had been absolved. When their neighbor, their spouse, their children, their co-worker, their employee, or someone else slights them in the smallest fashion, they take great offense and refuse to forgive their neighbor. Even when their neighbor is penitent and asks for forgiveness, so many, who themselves has been absolved, are too cold and calloused to mimic the mercy their Lord has showed them. This man, the former debtor, is called back before his king. “’You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’” Here Christ shows us that to not forgive our neighbor is wickedness. He calls that servant wicked because he has accepted the king’s mercy and then not had mercy on his fellow servant. The amount is irrelevant, even though it was considerably smaller. The principle remains that if you have received mercy, you ought also to show mercy to those who sin against you. The man is handed over to the torturers and will repay every last cent of his ten thousand talent debt because He did not value the forgiveness the king gave him.
6) Christ ends the parable with this warning, “So my heavenly Father also will do to you if you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” It is a stern warning not to receive the grace of God in vain. When we confess our sins and receive the absolution from God through the pastor, we ought not become proud and forget the great debt that has been cancelled. That doesn’t mean we are to hold onto our confessed sin, or beat ourselves up over it, we are simply to remember that we and our neighbor are in the same boat: we are all sinners before God and we all sin against each other daily. Christ teaches us this in the Our Father as well when He teaches us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” He goes on to say in Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Christ wants us to prize His absolution over all things in this life and keep it before us every day, which is evident from this warning that He gives at several points in the gospel accounts. It’s also important to understand that when He threatens to retain our sins if we do not forgive others, He is not teaching us that we earn God’s forgiveness by our action of forgiving others. Rather, our forgiving our neighbor is a visible sign that we have truly received the forgiveness Christ offers through His Word and Sacraments. If we find ourselves holding a grudge against a neighbor, that is a sign to us that we ought to retreat from that battle and first consider our own sins along with the great graciousness of God.
7) The point is that the gospel should leave its mark on you. That mark is joy that your sins, though many and mighty, have been completely forgiven. The mark that gospel leaves on you is the peace that God has absolved you of your trespasses and remembers them no more. This gives you the freedom to stop dwelling on them. The mark the gospel leaves on you is humility because we heard in today’s Psalm that if the Lord should mark iniquities, no one could stand before him, but that with him there is forgiveness therefore we fear Him. The mark the gospel leaves on you is that you forgive your brother when he sins against you. Whether his sins against you are petty or awful, slight or vile, how often or few, Christ wants each of us to forgive our neighbor, even if he sins against us seventy times seven times. Christ your Lord wants you to forgive your neighbor as He has forgiven you because you to treasure His forgiveness, because you prize the absolving word which removes all your sins, and because you cherish the good gifts He gives to us even though we ourselves daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. When we forgive our neighbor’s sins against us, this is surely a sign that have received God’s forgiveness of our sins, and that we are growing in our appreciation and gratefulness for the graciousness of God which gives us in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.