Trinity 22 2019
The Epistle – Philippians 1:3-11
The Gospel – St. Matthew 18:21-35
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
In Matthew 18:15-20 we read about the teaching of Jesus on … “If your brother sins against you.”
There He taught that if we have been offended or sinned against by a brother…by a fellow Christian, we are to handle it in a fashion that offers forgiveness, grace, repentance and a rebuilding of any relational breakdown.
First, we go to that person.
Tell him what he has done and try to get him to turn from his ways.
If he doesn’t listen, we are to take witnesses with us, and if he won't repent even then we go to the Church for discipline.
It goes on from there with a possibility of the person being excommunicated.
But Jesus is teaching here that He desires reconciliation when it is at all possible. We are to go to extreme lengths to bring about reconciliation.
So then we move on to the next verses, which are the ones we pick up in our Gospel lesson for today.
You might notice that we are still in the teaching of forgiveness. (Reconciliation)
Forgiveness and repentance are still a big part of this teaching.
But this Gospel today has the reason behind why all of this earthly reconciliation is necessary now.
If these accounts are all part of the same setting and the same teaching, then linking them together as Matthew does is important.
If it is the same ongoing teaching, then we see here Peter coming up to Jesus and saying, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”
Remember back in the first verses Jesus is teaching on “If your brother sins against you…go to him.”
So now Peter has an example or a scenario he wants to run by Jesus.
How about this….suppose my brother sins against me seven times. What then?
Suppose that he does it repeatedly…what do I do then?
This is a lot of sinning and I have been offended or injured repeatedly. Do I at some point have to take a more drastic approach...like withhold forgiveness?
These might be the questions that we might be asking when hearing about such a teaching.
How long do I have to put up with this? I have been injured. I have been sinned against. What is my recourse?
What am I to do?
But Jesus replies to Peter, “Seven times? I do not say seven, but seventy times seven.”
Consider briefly a passage that doesn’t come up in the Lectionary, so it gets overlooked by most.
St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:1–8 teaches something similar.
So, while Jesus’ 70 times 7 is on our minds, listen to what St. Paul has in this letter….which is to many another difficult teaching in a similar vein and it is no less powerful and redeeming when implemented.
He says, “When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?
So, to set the stage here, Paul is addressing Christians who are taking one another to court…to secular courts it would seem… since he says, you do this before the unrighteous instead of saints.
The unrighteous are unbelievers and saints are Christians.
Whatever is happening here in Corinth, the Christians are suing other Christians in secular court rather than working to solve the dispute within the body of the Church.
Here is the whole passage.
“When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?
 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!  So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church?  I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers,  but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?  To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you.”
How about this…what comes next is so difficult for some to hear…never mind carry out.
He says, “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?”  But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers! (ESV)
“Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?”
The point is not that the courts are corrupt, but that Christians should not be staining the Gospel and Christ with this sort of decision and this sort of behavior.
This only brings disdain down on the Christian Faith.
For outsiders to see our bad behavior and our inability to get along and settle things according to charity only smears the Christian Faith.
The world is always looking for ways to destroy Christianity. It is always looking for ways or finding reasons to discount Christianity.
It used to be that they looked for hypocrisy to show that we are not genuine, or the Faith is nonsense.
Nowadays there is just an outright attack on Christianity without any dialogue, discussion or debate.
Now the practice is, “If I don’t like it, it has to go.”
People don’t even argue for an alternate form of morality anymore.
This kind of behavior on the part of Christians only opens the door for them to walk right though, and say, “Those Christians are no better than anyone else. They fight with one another. What hypocrites.
And Christianity is represented by Christians. Notice the name “Christ” is in the title. So, if we are Christians, then we are to be “Christ-like-ians.”
So, this teaching of Paul goes hand in hand with or maybe augments what Jesus is teaching today.
So, if a fellow Christian offends me or worse, sins against me, Jesus says, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” …Or…
“Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” Let God sort it out and bring about justice.
And then, as He is want to do, Jesus goes into an example or a teaching that is intended to illustrate just why these things ought to be.
Why both 70X7 and “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” are hard sayings but necessary sayings.
He says, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.  When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.
The amount of money here is almost incomprehensible, so Jesus’ point here is a debt that is impossible to pay back.
He goes on… “And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.
So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’
So, there is a promise to pay it back…a fruitless and futile effort. An impossible promise to keep.
But the master has pity on him. He forgives him the debt. This forgiving of such an insurmountable size debt is key.
But….the guy who receives forgiveness now finds someone who owes him very little…at least in comparison to what he owed his master.
But he doesn’t have the same compassion and he doesn’t seem to want to offer the same grace and forgiveness he received.
Instead he grabs the guy by the throat. Threatens him and despite the man’s pleading for the same kind of grace, he refuses to accept the terms and has him imprisoned.
When the master finds out about this, he is disturbed by the lack of grace that he offered the one who owed him.
The master has him summoned. He appears before the master again…and the master says, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’
We are not told of an answer to this. But this is a Parable and not a true story, so there is no need to insert details like that.
The master decides that since the man he forgave did not learn a lesson from the master’s benevolence, the master has him jailed (this time) until he should pay the debt….the unpayable debt.
And then Jesus ends with this, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (ESV)
It should be clear to all of you what is going on here with Jesus’ Parable. The master is God and the one who owes an impossible amount of debt is us.
We owe God so much and yet the amount we owe is impossible to pay back. We can do nothing about it.
But God has forgiven us all of our debt and sin that we have committed and accumulated against Him through Jesus Christ.
So now, we must go about our lives, on the same level as all other men and do likewise.
Forgive 70x7…suffering wrong…being defrauded.
Don’t misunderstand here. There are times when civil courts are necessary and there is a time when though forgiveness must go on and on, discipline must be used.
But before we ever get to that, the teaching of Jesus should be at the very forefront of our minds.
Bishop Ryle says of this, “Our Lord does not mean that offences against the law of the land and the good order of society, are to be passed over in silence. He does not mean that we are to allow people to commit thefts, and assaults, with impunity. All that He means is, that we are to study a general spirit of mercy and forgivingness towards our brethren.
We are to bear much, and to put up with much, rather than quarrel. We are to look over much, and submit to much, rather than have any strife. We are to lay aside everything like malice, strife, revenge, and retaliation. Such feelings are only fit for heathens.
They are utterly unworthy of a disciple of Christ.”
He goes on like this, “It is clear from this parable that one motive for forgiving others, ought to be the recollection that we all need forgiveness at God’s hands ourselves…”
He says, “Day after day we are coming short in many things, “leaving undone what we ought to do, and doing what we ought not to do.” Day after day we require mercy and pardon.
Our neighbors’ offences against us are mere trifles, compared with our offences against God.”
Ryle - “Another motive for forgiving others, ought to be the recollection of the day of judgment, and the standard by which we shall all be tried in that day. There will be no forgiveness in that day for unforgiving people. Such people would be unfit for heaven…
…Surely if we mean to stand at the right hand, when Jesus sits on the throne of His glory, we must learn, while we are on earth, to forgive.
Paul tells us why in theological terms, in his letter to the Colossians.
 “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,  by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (ESV)
The unforgiving servant at the end is thrown into prison until he should pay all of his debt.
To this, 4th century Church Father Apollinaris - “Till he should pay all his debts” means in effect that he has handed him over to be punished for all time. For he could never pay it back.
For when he corrects a person in the present life, God hands him over to bonds, sickness and tortures, but in the future he hands him over to anguish without remission for all time…
…He did not say, “So also will your Father do to you,” but “my Father.” For such people are unworthy to be called sons of God. So, the parable describes in summary the indescribable love of God. Anyone who does not imitate this love as far as he can will suffer severe punishment from the just Judge.
Even though it has been said, ‘Not to be regretted are God’s blessings,’ yet wickedness is so strong that it blocks out these words. So the story demands two things of us: to remember our own faults and not to bear a grudge on one who stumbles.” Fragment 92.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.