24 Sunday A - Forgiveness - 7 Times

1.     From the Connections

The cutting edge of Jesus’ teaching on love is that nothing is unforgivable nor should there be limits to forgiveness. 
It is ironic that Peter should ask the question about forgiveness that introduces the parable of the merciless steward, since Peter himself will be so generously forgiven by Jesus for his denial of Jesus on Good Friday.  It was common rabbinical teaching that one must forgive another three times; the fourth time, the offender was not to be forgiven.  Perhaps Peter was anticipating Jesus’ response to his question by suggesting seven rather than the conventional three times; but Jesus responds that there should be no limit to the number of times we must be ready to forgive those who wrong us (“seventy times seven times”), just as there is no limit to the Father’s forgiveness of us.  As the king in the parable withdraws his forgiveness of his servant because of the servant’s failure to forgive another, so will God withdraw his forgiveness of the unforgiving and merciless among us.  God's forgiveness is not entirely unconditional: if we do not share it, we will lose it.


Forgiveness can only be given out of love and, therefore, demands sacrifice on the part of the forgiver.  To forgive as God forgives means to intentionally act to purge the evil that exists between us and those who harm us, to take the first, second and last steps toward bridging divisions, to work ceaselessly to mend broken relationships and to welcome and accept the forgiven back into our lives unconditionally, totally and joyfully. 
Before our merciful Father in heaven, every one of us is an insolvent debtor -- but the great mystery of our faith is that God continues to love us, continues to call us back to him, continues to seek not retribution but reconciliation with us.  All God asks of us is that we forgive one another as he forgives us, to help one another back up when we stumble just as God lifts us back up.

The Risen Christ calls us to seek reconciliation that transforms and re-creates: forgiveness that is joyfully offered and humbly but confidently sought; forgiveness that transforms the estranged and separated into family and community; forgiveness that overcomes our own anger and outrage at the injustice waged against us and focuses on healing the relationship with the person who wronged us and ruptured that relationship.  Christ-like reconciliation also means possessing the humility to face the hurt we have inflicted on others as a result of our insensitivity and self-centeredness. 

2.     From the
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...
Most adults recognize it is their "job" to teach children right from wrong, good from bad, safe from scary, yes from no.  

But there are some lessons that children are better at teaching us. Think about celebrations like birthdays (especially Christmas), and Easter, and any other special days that have the possibility of "presents" attached. Kids LOVE them, anticipate and adore them. Children love and accept presents with unabashed enthusiasm. Receiving a gift is "all good." 

For adults it is a bit more difficult. We worry about the cost of the gift. We worry about reciprocating the gift. We worry about whether the gift has invisible "strings" attached. Suddenly "receiving" is a bit more complicated than just joyous. Receiving a gift is hard for most of us. We either feel beholden, or suspicious, or overwhelmed, or unworthy of the freely given gifts (gratuities) that bless us. That's why adults often become better givers than receivers. 

The adult vs. child version of acceptance is even greater with the other tremendous "gift" young children are good at offering and accepting. Kindergarten kids might get into a heated battle over who gets custody of a Ninja Turtle figure. Tears and blows might even be involved. But after a truce is called, and apologies are offered (or sometimes enforced), in a short time all is forgiven, and (play) time goes on. Forgiveness is offered and the play date goes on.

There are no thoughts of revenge. There is no nurturing of anger. There are no dreams of retaliation...

 Forgiveness Written in Stone 

A story is told of two friends who were walking through the desert. During some point of the journey they had an argument, and one friend slapped the other one in the face. The one who got slapped was hurt, but without saying anything, wrote in the sand, "Today my best friends slapped me in the face."

They kept on walking until they found an oasis, where they decided to take a bath. The one who had been slapped got stuck in the mire and started drowning, but the friend saved him. After he recovered from nearly drowning, he wrote on a stone, "Today my best friend saved my life." 

His friend asked him, "After I hurt you, you wrote in the sand and now, you write on a stone, why?" The other friend replied "When someone hurts us we should write it down in sand where winds of forgiveness can erase it away. But, when someone does something good for us, we must engrave it in stone where no wind can ever erase it." 

So real forgiveness keeps on leaving the sins of others and our hurts in the past. Yet Jesus understands the difficulty of such forgiveness. To keep on forgiving is a God-like characteristic. It is contrary to human nature. So He gives a parable beginning in v.23 which will help us obey His commandment to keep on forgiving. 
Stephen Felker, How Often Should I Forgive?
 To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.
C.S. Lewis
 The Danger within Us
French author Victor Hugo has a short story titled, "93." In the midst of this tale a ship at sea is caught in a terrific storm. Buffeted by the waves, the boat rocks to and fro, when suddenly the crew hears an awesome crashing sound below deck. They know what it is. A cannon they are carrying has broken loose and is smashing into the ship's sides with every list of the ship. Two brave sailors, at the risk of their lives, manage to go below and fasten it again, for they know that the heavy cannon on the inside of their ship is more dangerous to them than the storm on the outside. So it is with people. Problems within are often much more destructive to us than the problems without. Today, God's word would take us "below decks" to look inside ourselves concerning the whole matter of forgiveness. 

Stephen M. Crotts / George L. Murphy, Sermons For Sundays: After Pentecost (Middle Third): The Incomparable Christ, , CSS Publishing Company, Inc.
 Debts in Roman Society
In the ancient world cruel treatment was practiced against debtors, often without regard to the debtor's ability or intention to repay. In Athens prior to the establishment of democratic rights, a creditor could demand slave labor of his debtor or of members of the debtor's family as surety of payment.
 Roman law provided punishment by imprisonment to the debtors. The reason for imprisonment and cruel treatment was to force the debtor to sell whatever property he might secretly own, or to have the debtor's relatives pay his debt. 
The creditor would demand slave labor of the entire family so that the debt might be worked off. There were legal restrictions to prevent extreme cruelty, but in spite of the laws the entire system of debts and sureties was recklessly abused in the ancient world. 
The prophets frequently condemned violations of the laws. 
James R. Davis, The Unmerciful Servant
Saved by Forgiveness
Since nothing we intend is ever faultless, and nothing we attempt ever without error, and nothing we achieve without some measure of finitude and fallibility we call humanness, we are saved by forgiveness. 
David Augsburger
 Forgiveness Is Not Innate 
William Willimon writes: "The human animal is not supposed to be good at forgiveness. Forgiveness is not some innate, natural human emotion. 
Vengeance, retribution, violence, these are natural human qualities. It is natural for the human animal to defend itself, to snarl and crouch into a defensive position when attacked, to howl when wronged, to bite back when bitten. Forgiveness is not natural. It is not a universal human virtue."

Will Willimon
 Two Million Dollar Mistake
John D. Rockefeller built the great Standard Oil empire. Not surprisingly, Rockefeller was a man who demanded high performance from his executives. One day, one of those executives made a two million dollar mistake. Word of the man's enormous error quickly spread throughout the executive offices, and the other men began to make themselves scarce, not wanting to cross his path. One man didn't have any choice, however, since he had an appointment with the boss. So he straightened his shoulders and walked into Rockefeller's office. As he approached Rockefeller's desk, he looked up from the piece of paper on which he was writing. "I guess you've heard about the two million dollar mistake our friend made," he said abruptly. "Yes," the executive said, expecting Rockefeller to explode. "Well, I've been sitting here listing all of our friend's good qualities, and I've discovered that in the past he has made us many more times the amount he lost for us today by his one mistake. His good points far outweigh this one human error. So I think we ought to forgive him, don't you?"

 Dale Galloway, You Can Win with Love, in The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Charles Swindoll, Word Pub., p. 215.
 What God Can Do with Forgiveness 

By the grace of God we can use forgiveness as a positive, creative force bringing light into a darkened world. Nobody does that kind of thing better, of course, than God. Who could imagine 2,000 years ago that the symbol of the Christian church would be a hangman's noose, an electric chair, a guillotine? Those analogies may be necessary for us to keep from being too sentimental about "the old, rugged cross." A cross is a terrible thing. It was indeed a symbol of suffering and shame. Humanity nailed God's own Son on a cross. What barbarity! What unspeakable evil! Yet God turned that cross into the means by which you and I may find our salvation. That is what God can do with forgiveness. What can you do? 

King Duncan, Collected Sermons,
 Forgiven: Too Poor to Pay
(A good sermon closer) 

When the books of a certain Scottish doctor were examined after his death, it was found that a number of accounts were crossed through with a note: "Forgiven--too poor to pay." But the physician's wife later decided that these accounts must be paid in full and she proceeded to sue for money. When the case came to court the judge asked but one question. Is this your husband's handwriting? When she replied that it was he responded: "There is no court in the land that can obtain a debt once the word forgiven has been written." 

And that is the good news that the Gospel offers us this morning....
3. From Fr. Tony Kadavil:
1) "I spoke to a brother whom I have pardoned."
Three decades ago (1981) there was an attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II. Fortunately, the Pope lived. After he recovered, he shocked the world when he made a visit to Rome’s Rabbibia Prison on Christmas day to see the man who had attempted to assassinate him. Millions watched on television as the Pope, on Christmas day, visited with Mehmet Ali Agca, who only two years before had tried to assassinate him. The white-robed Pope and jean-clad terrorist huddled in the dark prison cell for 20 minutes, talking in low voices that could not be heard. When he emerged John Paul explained, "I spoke to a brother whom I have pardoned." We will never forget the headline the next week in Time Magazine, "Why forgive?" That is a good question, one that has been asked for centuries. Today’s readings give the reasons. Three months after the terrible attack of September 11, 2001, Pope John Paul II, in his message for the annual World Day for Peace, taught clearly that there can be no peace without justice, and there can be no justice without forgiveness. That’s a message that has gone largely unheard and unheeded on all sides of today’s conflicts. It’s kind of like what Chesterton said about Christianity itself – it hasn’t been tried and found wanting; it’s been found difficult and left untried.
2) Adopt an orphaned Muslim child and raise him as a Muslim in your Hindu family.
In the motion picture of the life of Gandhi there, is a scene in which a Hindu father whose child has been killed by a Muslim comes to Gandhi in great grief and remorse. Out of a sense of retribution he has killed a Muslim child. He now kneels before Gandhi asking how he can get over his guilt and regret. Gandhi, who is gravely ill, tells the man that he must go and adopt a boy and raise him as his very own son. That request seems reasonable but then comes a requirement: In order to find inner peace, the Hindu man must raise the boy to be a Muslim. Overwhelmed at the inconceivable thought of raising a son as a Muslim, the man leaves Gandhi's room in total disarray. Later, however, he returns and again kneels beside Gandhi's bed. He now understands. He must take the hostility from his heart and replace it with love. That kind of forgiveness is more than passive resignation to a bad situation. By the grace of God we can use forgiveness as a positive, creative force bringing light into a darkened world.
3) "Now Abraham Lincoln belongs to the ages."
In his sermon "Loving Your Enemies," Martin Luther King, Jr., described an event from history: When Abraham Lincoln was running for the presidency of the United States, there was a man who ran all around the country speaking ill of Lincoln. He said a lot of unkind things. "You don’t want a tall, lanky, ignorant man like this as the president of the United States!" However, Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States. When the time came for him to choose the Secretary of War, he looked across the nation, and decided to choose a man by the name of Mr. Stanton. When the president made this proposal before his advisors, they were surprised: "Mr. Lincoln,” the senior adviser said, “Are you a fool? Do you know what Mr. Stanton has been saying about you? Did you read all of those derogatory statements that he made about you?" Abraham Lincoln stood before the advisors around him and said: "Oh yeah. I know about it; I read about it; I’ve heard him myself. But after looking over the country, I find that he is the best man for the job." Mr. Stanton did become the Secretary of War. Later, when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, one of the greatest statements ever made about him was by this man Mr. Stanton. After describing the nobility of the president, his spirit of unconditional forgiveness and the integrity of his character in superlatives, Stanton emphatically added, "Now Abraham Lincoln belongs to the ages." If Abraham Lincoln had hated Stanton, and acted accordingly, Stanton might well have gone to his grave hating Lincoln and Lincoln might have gone to his grave hating Stanton. But through the power of Abraham Lincoln’s forgiving love, God was able to redeem Stanton.
4) A woman testified to the transformation in her life that had resulted through her experience in conversion. She declared, "I’m so glad I got religion. I have an uncle I used to hate so much that I vowed I’d never go to his funeral. But now, why, I’d be happy to go to it any time."
5) In a recent issue of Reader’s Digest, Janey Walser wrote these words: “I once worked in a grocery store and often assisted elderly people when they came in. One woman shopped nearly every day, asking for just a few items each time. After a month, she said to me, "I suppose you wonder why I’m here so often. You see, I live with my nephew. I can’t stand him, and I am not going to die and leave him with a refrigerator full of food."
6). Two little brothers, Harry and James, had finished supper and were playing until bedtime. Somehow, Harry hit James with a stick, and tears and bitter words followed. Charges and accusations were still being exchanged as their mother prepared them for bed. She said, “Now boys, what would happen if either of you died tonight and you never had the opportunity again for forgiving one another?” James spoke up, “Well, OK, I’ll forgive him tonight, but if we’re both alive in the morning, he’d better look out.”