Year A Proper 19 Matthew 18 2011
Forgive Us Our Debts
Matthew 18:21-35

As with so many of the stories of Jesus, the parable of the debtors arose out of a question that was posed to Jesus. Simon Peter said to him: "Master, if my brother sins against me, how many times should I forgive him? Seven times? Even as he asks that question my mind cannot help but think about children and how they will sometimes confess something they do wrong expecting to get praise from a teacher or a parent because they were so honest.

In the same sense, Simon Peter by asking this question is not expecting rebuke but praise. He is expecting Jesus to say: "Excellent Peter. You go to the head of the class. You get A+." According to Jewish law, Peter had the right to think that he had done something good. Scribal law clearly read:

"If a man transgresses one time, forgive him. If a man transgresses two times, forgive him. If a man transgresses three times, forgive him. If a man transgresses four times, do not forgive him." What Peter has done is to take this law of limited forgiveness, multiply it by two and add one, and then sit back with a smile on his face and say: Now how is that for being a great guy? And he surely must have been taken aback when Jesus said you must forgive seventy times seven.

Then Jesus proceeded to tell a story. There was a certain king who had a day of reckoning for his servants. He found one who owed him 10,000 talents and, because he could not pay, he was about to have him thrown into jail and his wife and children sold into slavery. In response to the man’s pathetic pleadings, however, he forgave him the entire debt.

Whereupon that forgiven servant went to a fellow servant who owed him 100 denarii, a very small sum of money, and demanded payment. He pleaded for extra time, an extension, but the man would not hear of it and he had him thrown into jail. This story got back to the king who went into a rage. He called in the forgiven servant and said that because of his conduct, he was now to be thrown into jail. His original debt was reinstated.

Now the question is, what was Jesus attempting to say to Simon Peter?

  1. First, forgiveness carries a heavy price.
  2. Second, a forgiven soul should be a forgiving soul.

Make a 119 Call
Romans 14:1-12

"God hath not promised
Skies ever blue,
Flower-strewn pathways
All our lives through;
God hath not promised
Skies without rain,
Joy without sorrow,
Peace without pain.

"But God hath promised
Strength for the day,
Rest for the labor,
Light for the way,
Grace for the trials,
Help from above,
Unfailing sympathy,
Undying love."
- Annie-Johnson Flint

When I went to seminary, we were required to learn "active listening" skills. One required exercise was to interview another student and draw out of them a conflict story of a family member.

My interviewee, "Bob," talked about conflicts with his Dad. They were as different as chalk and cheese. Bob was Triple A: athletics, academics, arts. What’s more, he was the "life-of-the-party" kind of guy. "Bob’s" dad had dropped out of high school, worked a series of hands-on, bent-back jobs throughout his life, and had many physical problems. He was quiet and rarely showed his emotions — positive or negative.

But despite their differences, Bob and his Dad always watched a weekly football game together on the saggy old family room couch. And at some point during the game, Bob’s Dad would reach over and hold his son’s hand for a few moments, squeezing it a couple of times and then releasing it. Those football games were Bob’s Dad’s way of communicating the love he had for his son, the love he could not express with words.

Today is the 10th anniversary of 9/11. It is also the first day of official NFL Sunday afternoon football. I confess to you this morning that I am not up to the task of giving you words that will address the horror and heritage of 9/11 in any way that is consoling or convincing. But as we struggle to find images and stories that might reveal the depth of our emotions on this tenth anniversary of that day of infamy, believe it or not we can connect with some of those feelings by holding hands and watching a football game.

The first four televised games of the 2011 NFL season were specifically chosen to commemorate the events of 911.

*At 1 p.m. there is a game between Pittsburgh and Baltimore — midway between those two cities is Shanksville, PA, the site of the crash of flight 93, which the terrorists had destined for the White House.

*Later in the afternoon there is a game between the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins, played only a few miles from the site of the Pentagon plane crash/attack.

*This afternoon there is also a game between Carolina and Arizona, which will feature ceremonies honoring Pat Tillmon, the Cardinals player who left a lucrative pro-football career to join the military after the 911 attacks and who was killed in action in Iraq.

*Finally the Dallas Cowboys will play the New York Jets just across the Hudson River in full view of where the Twin Towers fell.

Whatever game you see it is a good day to hold hands with your loved ones as you enjoy the simple act of being together and watch a football game.

There is only one way to get through the horror of an event like 9/11: day by day. "Twelve Step" recovery programs, like Alcoholics Anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous, all emphasize that recovery is a day-by-day, sometimes even an "hour-by-hour," journey. That is why alcoholics and addicts are always "recovering," never fully "cured." They know that every single day is a chance to move forward and resist the undertow of the old demons.

But every day is also a day where weakness or despair might lead to a slip up, a stumble, a bad choice. Since 9-11 we have all been on a "day-by-day" journey of recovery. Recovery from horror. Recovery from hatred — both the hatred of our enemies and of our own crop of bile. Recovery from the realization that the world does not love us. Recovery from a fear of the future. Recovery from vengeance. Recovery from grief and despair... presents Leonard Sweet