Back when our text took place, the rabbis — particularly those of the Pharisaic sect — devoted many hours to analyzing and debating all of life’s theological and moral perimeters. Their discussions of “forgiveness” brought them to the conclusion that a person should forgive his neighbor three times. The fourth time you were offended by the same neighbor, forgiveness was not required. Forgive a neighbor three times and you have fulfilled the teachings of the strictest religious authorities.
It is rather obvious where Peter came up with the number “seven”. It appears that Jesus’ Own teachings about love and forgiveness had made a real impression on Peter so he took the revered rabbis’ requirement of “three”, doubled it to “six”, and added one for good measure. “As many as seven times?”
His fellow disciples were probably impressed and nodded their agreement.
But Jesus said to Peter, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” That’s literally 490 times.
Can’t you just imagine someone carrying a note pad — keeping score on their spouse, their children, their friends, their fellow church members? “O.K., that makes the 491st time you have offended me. No more forgiveness.” We have all known people who appear to view other people that way - keeping count - and with a number far lower than 490.
It was a lot easier with those First Century rabbis where you only had to count to three — or even with Peter’s liberal “seven”.
And that is the very point Jesus is making. Jesus gave a number that went well beyond a rational person’s scorekeeping and even an irrational person’s ability. Jesus said, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” Keep forgiving long after you can’t keep count.
As Jesus so often did in His teaching, He went on to explain his “seventy times seven” with a parable which began by comparing “the Kingdom of heaven” to “a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But, as he was unable to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.”
The debt itself was enormous. In Biblical times, one talent was 20 years of a laborer’s wages and this first debtor owed “ten thousand talents” — an amount a servant would not even see in a lifetime – unless he lived more than 200,000 years.
In His parable, Jesus is relating the impossible-to-pay monetary debt of that first servant standing in the presence of a certain king with the enormous impossible-to-pay guilt debt we all owe in The Presence of God.
One of the saddest things in life is seeing a person trying to establish a relationship with God by making themselves worthy of God’s love. In contrast to The Gospel of Jesus Christ, we see some adherents to another faith committing suicide while murdering people they brand as enemies of their God as their sinful way of trying to personally earn enough credits to get rid of sin’s dark blot on their souls.
It plainly and simply cannot be done — not by you … not by me … not by any human being. It cannot be done.
Even after we sinners surrender our lives and our wills to God, we are still sinners who need God’s cleansing of our guilt and strengthening against our temptations – God’s paying our ultimate debt on the cross.
Jesus suffered and died on the cross because we are sinners — condemned sinners who cannot forgive and cleanse ourselves … sinners who can never earn that forgiveness and cleansing and the right to spend eternity in the visible Presence of God.
We need God's Grace and God's forgiveness. As the first servant faced prison without a certain king’s forgiveness and pardon, life itself is what’s at stake in our relationship with God. Speaking through Paul in his Epistle to the Romans (ROMANS 6:23a), God warns that “The wages of sin — one sin, many sins, big sins, little sins — the wages of sin is death.” And we can only plead for God’s Mercy and Grace.
“Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind,
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
O, Lamb of God, I come, I come.”¹
Where else would any of us go to find what only Jesus Christ - The Lamb of God - can give?
Our loving Master God wipes the debt away — forgives the sin, cancels the guilt as if it had never been there in the first place, gives us a fresh and new start — even pays the entire debt by lovingly and faithfully coming to as a true flesh and blood vulnerable human being and suffering and dying on the cross for our sins.
“I lay my sins on Jesus,
The spotless Lamb of God;
He bears them all and frees us
From the accursed load.
I bring my guilt to Jesus
To wash my crimson stains
Clean in His Blood most precious
Till not a spot remains.”²
Moved with compassion, God releases us, and forgives us the debt.
And how has such Divine Mercy and Grace changed our lives?
In Jesus’ parable, the totally forgiven “servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all’. And he would not, but went and threw him in prison till he should pay the debt.”
In Biblical times, a denarii could typically be earned by a worker in just one day and this second debtor only owed a hundred denarii — an amount a servant might earn in a few months compared with those “ten thousand talents” the first debtor would not even see in a lifetime.
We all do faithless acts in which we sin direcrtly toward God and if we sin against each other and are not loving toward each other, we not only sin against each other, but we are sinning against God Who commands us love each other as we love ourselves. Everytime we sin against each other our sinner’s list of debts owed to God grows. So it is with all our sins.
Jesus continues His parable as the unforgiving debtor’s “fellow servants saw what he had done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.
His parable completed, Jesus warned, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
Unlike “a certain king” in Jesus’ parable, God does not need our “fellow servants” to inform God whether we forgive those who trespass against us as God “forgives us our trespasses”. God knows everything we do even before we do it — everything we fail to do even before we fail to do it.
When the Divine Judge comes, we truly stand “without one plea” — but that Christ’s “blood was shed for us”.
That is why Jesus tells Peter and us, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” Stop counting! Start forgiving! Keep reconciling!
And as we live with our God-given forgiveness and reconciliation with God, we also free ourselves from the burden, the anger, the tension, the depression that holding a grudge creates. We free ourselves from the spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical strain in remembering all those past transgressions people have committed against us. And while God frees us, we open ourselves to accepting the relationship Jesus offers us with God the Ultimate Reconciler-Peacemaker in setting our neighbor free as well - being a child of God — mirroring our Savior's lifestyle in ours – growing in Christ.
How wonderfully our world can be transformed if we unleash such God-given Power!
THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH PASSES ALL HUMAN UNDERSTRANDING KEEP YOUR HEARTS AND YOUR MINDS IN OUR PERSONAL LORD AND SAVIOUR — THE TRUE RECONCILER-PEACEMAKER NOW AND ETERNALLY. AMEN.
18th Sunday of The Trinity Season
October 8, 2017
John Hazzard preaching
Dr. Kurt Borows
Pastor, Resurrection Lutheran Church, Catawba Island, Port Clinton, Ohio