September 5, 2021

Sermon – The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost 2021

Pastoral Sermon 
Eleventh Sunday of Matthew
V. Rev. Timothy Baclig, Pastor
September 5, 2021
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus illustrated the importance of forgiving others with the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:23-35).  The lesson begins with the phrase:  “The Lord spoke this parable…”  (v. 21).  It is part of a broader context of a dialogue between the Apostle Peter, beginning with verse 21.  Peter approached Jesus to ask: “How many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?  Up to seven times?”  To which the Lord replied: “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (verse 22).
According to the Old Testament (which was the only “scripture” in the days of Jesus) God promised to forgive sins but also to punish the guilty and their children to the third and fourth generations (Exodus 34:7).  The rabbinic teachers taught that a person must forgive three times.  Rabbi Jose ben Jehuda said: “If a man commits an offense once, they forgive him; if he commits an offense a second time, they forgive him; if he commits an offense a third time, they forgive him; the fourth time, they do not forgive.”  And so the Apostle Peter, by Old Testament and rabbinic standards, was already very generous.  He came to Jesus and proposed, perhaps with a degree of self-satisfaction, the rule of forgiving the wrongdoer seven times.  But Jesus said not seven times, but seventy seven times (some Biblical texts read: “seventy times seven”).  In other words, we are to forgive others without counting the number at all!  It is at this point that today’s lesson begins.
The goal and objective of the lesson of the parable that follows in the main section of today’s Gospel reading is to understand how to forgive our brother from our heart.  Verse 35 (concludes): “…unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”  So much of our Lord’s teaching, such as what we hear in His Sermon on the Mount is understanding what St. Cyprian of Carthage says, “God listens, not to our voice, but to our heart.”  The Church Fathers speak of this often concerning what they call “the prayer of the heart” and the “prayer of the inner self.”  Our Lord made very clear that it was not enough to fulfill the precepts of the Law, but to obey and practice it from our hearts.
In other words, it is not enough to say, “I forgive…” because God expects and commands me to forgive.  We hear in the Epistle of I John 4:19ff:  We love because He first loved us.  If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not loves his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God, who he has not seen.  And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.  
In the parable of today’s Gospel lesson we hear of a king who forgave his servant a debt of 10,000 talents or several million dollars; however, that servant in turn we learn was unwilling to forgive his fellow servant of his debt of a few dollars.  The parable concludes with the unmerciful servant being thrown into prison, ending with the warning:  “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Abuse of the parable is to logically think that God is a God of mercy and that there is no judgment.  Well, you could say, “I thought God is compassionate and merciful?  Folks that think this way are people without principles or respect of laws – God’s principles and Laws.  They “want to have their cake and eat it too.”  
The Gospel lesson presupposes our understanding that in this life we have the only opportunity to repent of our sins and to forgive others.  This is the heart of the Gospel.  It is the message of Pascha and is deeply rooted in the joy and experience of the Resurrection.  It is the reason for Christ’s own sacrificial death, a sacrifice that becomes our sacrifice by repentance – our cross, as we live a life of the baptized in Christ.
It is very easy for us to make the subject of forgiving others more difficult and more of a personal challenge than necessary.  It helps for us to begin by asking ourselves:  What prevents us from being able to forgive others?  Is it pride, resentment, being hurt and wanting retribution; a failure of being understood, or is it being rejected.
As a child learning to ask the forgiveness of others was never easy.  It was not easy because at times it may not have been my fault.  It was also very embarrassing.  Asking forgiveness was also a painful thing to do.  It may also have been difficult because there were those times that I could not image the person I offended ever asking my forgiveness.
And so we can say that forgiving others requires faith and courage; trust in God; most importantly: accepting and experiencing God’s forgiveness.  Moreover, you and I cannot achieve the goal of forgiveness or practice forgiving others from our heart without God.  Knowing and experiencing God’s forgiveness personally is where it all begins.  And should we believe that we have no need of God’s forgiveness, we are in big trouble.
Finally, parable of the unmerciful servant involves indebtedness: a servant who was beholden to a king and a servant who was indebted to another servant.  There is nothing worse than when someone is beholden to another.  It is like being enslaved.  It causes worry, it makes life more stressful, especially if your needs are not satisfied and you can’t get your “head above water.”  There is a sense that you “can’t get ahead;” you’re “spinning your wheels” and cannot gain any ground or move forward with your life.
The parable begins with a king, who we are told, takes the initiative, and desired to settle – to bring an end to what was owed to him.  Like the king in the parable God took the initiative to save us by sending His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  However, unlike the king, our God through the sacrifice of His Son, not only forgave us our sins, but took upon Himself the sins of the world as we hear it said in scripture:  He who knew no sin became the sin offering for us… and in so doing Christ accomplished the ultimate sacrifice in obliterating any guilt and shame.  He achieved what no one ever could, and as the only one who could – being the Author and Creator of life itself.

Christ our God, as we approach the time of receiving your Sacrament we ask for your forgiveness of sins both voluntary and involuntary, and if we have offended anyone, enable us to humbly ask for their forgiveness that we may experience the joy of salvation.  We thank Thee for having accepted us just as we are.  Strengthen us in our time of weakness that we may grow in faith and love.  Be near to us and keep us ever mindful of your love that we may be not only hearers but doers of all that you have commanded us; forgiving others from our hearts.  For Thou art our Savior and to Thee do we ascribe glory together with Thy Father and Thine all Holy, Good, and life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.  A-men.