Friday, May 20, 2016

Forgiving those who trespass against us


BEFORE we consider the obvious lesson of the parable, let’s take a moment to think about the less evident but more important one, namely that Jesus is the Merciful Lord of the parable who paid the debt we owe by His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead.  This is our faith, our life, our hope and our joy.

Jesus is the Merciful Lord.  Numerous times in His earthly ministry people called on Him for aid and He answered them all:  the thief on the cross who was suffering the wages of his sin; the Canaanite woman who was willing to eat crumbs because she loved her daughter more than her pride; and the father of a self-destructive son who was possessed by a demon to name just a few.  They didn’t ask Jesus for silver or gold or jewels but only for mercy and He gave it because they believed and asked.  May we all so believe, and so call upon our Lord Jesus Christ in every trouble whatever it might be, and know that He will always hear us and extend mercy to us.

Jesus isn’t only our Merciful Lord, but our Merciful Servant as well.  He says in Matthew 20:28 “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."  Jesus did many things in His earthly ministry.  He preached God’s Word, taught heavenly wisdom to earthly people, miraculously reversed the consequences of sin and kept the Law perfectly on our behalf.  All of these things were vital parts of  His saving mission, but the one thing we glory in above all is the Cross of Christ which still towers over the wrecks of time, and still confers grace, mercy and peace to sinners throughout the ages.

When Jesus died God forgave the sins of the world, all of them, including yours.  Always remember that and never doubt it, but the problem with sin is that we can’t see it with our eyes.  We can see its effects; most obviously in the way we interact with one another, amusing ourselves by abusing one another.  Why else does a man on Cleveland’s east side rape and murder eleven women?  Why else do those in power print and borrow money like there’s no tomorrow and send the bill to us and our children?  What do their balance sheets look like before the Lord?  But more importantly, what do ours look like?  Are we better than they?  Less sinful?  More righteous?  Kinder or gentler?  God forbid!  Scripture emphatically states that, “there is none that is righteous, no not one.” (Romans 3:10).  We all plot to game the system.  We all want a free ride.  We’re all more than happy to accept pardon for the mountains of debt we owe, but un-willing to extend the same pardon to those whose debt is but a mole hill by comparison.  No, we can’t see sin with our eyes, and divine justice is something in the foggy future, so in order to teach us this central lesson of the Christian faith Jesus uses a parable in which He compares sin to debt.

The Unmerciful Servant was in dire trouble.  Like much of the financial world today he had borrowed too much money.  He was up to his eyeballs in debt and now it was time to repay, but his investments all went suddenly south.  He was upside down, under water, and had no way to pay what he owed.  Unlike today there were no bailouts in Jesus’ day, but there were debtor prisons and a strict code of justice which if applied today would land many of the world’s financiers into a deep, dark, dank prison, but lest we feel smug please know that the parable isn’t about Wall Street, it’s about Main Street.  It’s about us.  We too have incurred unsustainable debt before God and man by our countless transgressions. (Luke 15:21)  Every violation is like money borrowed that we must pay back, but like the Unmerciful Servant we have no means, so all that remains for us is to be sold into temporal and eternal punishment.

The Unmerciful Servant was no fool however, nor should we be.  He entered negotiations without a leg to stand on, and not a chance in the world of winning.  His desperate request was not to be forgiven, but only for more time.  It wouldn’t have helped because he never could have paid back the debt he owed, and neither can we, but in the end it didn’t matter because he got much more than he ever bargained for.  The Merciful Lord forgave the entire debt and set him free!  So it is with us!  We too have been released.  We too have been set free from the consequences of our sins before God, not by bargaining, but by confessing and believing.  St. John states in his first epistle that if we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all un-righteousness. (1 John 1:9)  Why does he say that?  He says “just” because the Merciful Servant paid our debt, in full, on the cross and there is no balance due.  And He says “faithful” because God does exactly what He had promised to do from the beginning, namely to forgive our iniquity and remember our sins no more. (Jeremiah 31:34)

We said earlier that the parable is about Jesus who is the Merciful Lord and Servant, but it’s about us too.  Once we grasp the divine transaction that occurred on the Cross, and the mountain of debt that has been forgiven us, it is incumbent upon us to forgive the mole hill of debt that others owe us.  Those mole hills can often seem like mountains to us.  People can be cruel and heartless.  They can rob us of joy and make us wish we were never born.  That’s the reality of life in a sinful world and we must never, like so many co-dependants, deny it or minimize it, but as Forgiven Servants we must acknowledge that the debt of sin we owed to God was immeasurably greater than the debts that others owe to us; and that it’s our high calling in Christ to forgive others even as God in Christ has forgiven us. (Eph. 4:32)

We have no duty to expose ourselves to the assaults of others, neither should we confuse forgiving wrong, with excusing it.  Nor can we forgive the sins people commit against others, against society, or remit civil penalties.  Never-the-less forgiveness lies at the very heart of the Christian faith; God’s forgiveness extended to us in Christ, and our forgiveness extended to others who desire it from us.  It’s not always easy to do, and the repetitive sins we commit against one another often make us weary, so we pray that the Father of all mercies, and God of all comfort would grant us a hearty faith to believe that He has pardoned all our debt in Christ; and strengthen us to forgive those who trespass against us.   Amen.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

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