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Pentecost 15A Sermon
Matthew 18: 21-35
September 17, 2017


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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our father be with us, in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

The gospel lesson today should be a popular one for those math geeks out there, because there are a lot of numbers involved in it. It starts right off with the number, “7”. Peter asks Jesus if he has to forgive another member of the church seven times if they sin against him. Seven is not a number that was chosen out of the air. Seven is a number of perfection in Bible-speak. The world was made perfectly in seven days (if you count the day that God rests). It is God’s number – humanity’s number is 6 – one less than perfect – and God’s number is 7. When Peter asks about forgiveness, he is asking how much is perfect forgiveness.

Then there is the number 77. It is double sevens, and is even more perfect in action, if that is possible. But in most Greek texts of this passage, Jesus doesn’t say that we are to forgive 77 times – it is 70 times 7 times! Imagine, perfect forgiveness times perfect forgiveness multiplied by ten. That certainly is perfect forgiveness.

Then there is the next figure – 490. That is 70 times 7. Can you imagine forgiving a person almost 500 times for hurting you? How do you keep track that long? Unless you actually keep a notebook with you and mark down each and every sin followed by your forgiveness when it happens, you would never know when you hit 490 times exactly!

The next figure is a very large number. It is 3.75 billion. That is the number of dollars in today’s economy that ten thousand talents are worth; 10,000 is the number of talents that the slave owed the king, which the king forgave when the slave begged him to have patience. One talent is worth 15 years’ wages for a laborer. At about $25 per hour, one talent is worth about $375,000. 10,000 raises it up into the billions. Can you imagine what it would take to be in debt with someone almost $4 billion? It would be impossible to rack up such debt to anyone, let alone consider paying it back!

The next to last figure I want to share is 20,000. That is the amount of the debt in today’s dollars that the forgiven slave does not forgive the fellow slave. A denarius us a day’s wage for a laborer, and if we consider that same $25 per hour rate at 8 hours, we get $200. A hundred of those is $20,000. It is not a small amount - $20,000 isn’t pocket change … but in comparison to 3.75 billion, it is a drop in the bucket; a drop in the ocean, actually!

In chapter 18 of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is talking about some hard subjects. Remember last week we learned how difficult authentic community is. But when it happens, it is a tremendous witness to the world. Now Jesus is telling Peter and the disciples how hard forgiveness is. If we liken God to the King, then we realize the extent to which we have been forgiven in our lives. It is akin to perfection times perfection to the tenth power. It is a figure we cannot even imagine owing another human being, in our earthly economic system. It is outrageous to even think that we could accumulate or repay such a debt human beings.

When this sort of extreme grace is demonstrated, though, it is a witness at which we cannot help by marvel. And when we get over our egos and forgive anyone – no matter how insignificant it is in comparison with God’s forgiveness – then we are living out God’s expectations for all of his followers.
You may remember the story about how a distraught milkman shot 10 young Amish schoolgirls in a one-room school house in Lancaster Pennsylvania in October of 2006, killing 5 of them. After committing this terrible crime, Charles Carl Roberts IV turned the gun on himself, ending his own life. When such a tragic, senseless taking of life occurs, it seems only natural in the economy of our thinking that the community should arm themselves against other intruders – to denounce the killer’s family and further insulate themselves from the outside world. But what this community did was so incredible that it can only be compared with the 3.75 billion which is forgiven in the parable.

In the midst of their grief over this shocking loss, the Amish community didn’t cast blame, they didn’t point fingers, they didn’t hold a press conference with attorneys at their sides. Instead, they reached out with grace and compassion to the killer’s family. On the afternoon of the shootings, the Amish grandfather of one of the victims expressed forgiveness toward Charles Roberts. That same day, Amish families visited the Roberts family to comfort them in their sorrow and pain, bringing them food. Later that week, the Roberts family was invited to the funeral of one of the girls killed. And Amish mourners outnumbered non-Amish mourners at Charles’ funeral.

Could you do that? Is that as inconceivable a concept as a person forgiving a debt of $3.75 billion? It may be even more difficult, especially if it is your son or daughter who was killed. This is not a “feel-good” passage … but it is a powerful, important passage to Christians. We are at the same time comforted and encouraged by the immense sense of grace with which God acts toward us; and we are challenged by the command that we should act the same way over and over and over again toward those around us who hurt us.

I promised one more figure in today’s message. That figure is 2,996. That is the number of people that were killed on September 11, 2001. Last Monday was the 16th year since these attacks happened on our own soil. We see reminders of it all around us and are encouraged to, “Never Forget.” 2,996 lost lives. That seems like a lot of people. I want you to consider this: there were 2,606 in the World Trade Center and surrounding area that were killed; 125 in the Pentagon; and there were 246 civilians and staff on the airplanes. If you do some quick math, you will notice that we are 19 short – that 2,606 plus 125 plus 246 adds up to 2,977. Where are the other 19? Well, that other 19 is as big a number as 3.75 billion, for those were the 19 terrorists that were killed in carrying out the attacks.

Can we forgive as God forgives? Can we forgive as the Amish forgive? Can we forgive as Jesus calls us to forgive? Is the economy of God’s grace something that we can adopt? It is not an easy thing, but when it happens, it is a powerful witness to the world of the amazing love and grace that God shows to all of us every day of our lives. May it be so, in the name of Christ our Lord; Amen.