Lectionary Reflection: Matthew 18: 21-35: Forgiveness and the Love Connection

Let me share one thing that bothers me greatly.  It is Biblical scholars who truly believe the Gospel writers took many of the saying and stories of Jesus, from “Q” or wherever, and sprinkled them liberally here and there throughout their gospel without any necessary rhyme or reason.  I can tell you, as a storyteller, something that most Biblical scholars are not, writers don’t work that way – not even amateurs.

This story told by Jesus comes hard on the situation found in Matthew 18: 15-20 from last week.  Consider last week’s notes (which you can easily do by clicking on it over on “Recent Posts”).  The issue is not whether Jesus actually told this story on the heels of that situation.  The issue is Matthew saw the connection and related this story of Jesus (possibly one that he told more than once) in this place.

Last week, the issue was about dealing with our brothers and sisters in Christ and what to do when we become aware of their sin, perhaps especially when they sin “against us.”  This week, the word is forgive.  Nothing from last week will work unless we first forgive.  Jesus certainly knew this.  Matthew certainly saw the connection.  We ought to see it as well.

But then, do we really understand what forgiveness is?

I have said this before: forgiving does not mean forgetting.  The King in this story is a very thin disguise for God.  Clearly.  And the one who owed ten thousand talents (10,000 bags of gold), an amount as incalculable now as then, is us.  We owe everything.  Our spouse, children, homes, investments, everything.  And yet, when we ask, God forgives us all of it.  But what if the man then looked up to the King and said this:

“Since my debt is forgiven.  Since we are even again, do you suppose I could borrow another thousand talents?”  No.  I don’t think so.  Forgiveness is not forgetting and God is not saying we should blindly go back into that trap again.

But forgiveness is a matter of the heart.  It is something inside of us – something we do regardless of what the other person does.  Think about it.  We must give up ill will.  We must not hate.  All thoughts of revenge, retribution, punishment and “getting even” must be put away.  Only then can we love the other person as God loves us.  Only then can we dare go to them in private, because of that love.

We need to recognize that people who sin are like us, and people who “sin against us” need help, not hate.  It is like the story of the homeless, hopeless addict who comes to Christ.  It is wonderful that God accepts us just where we are.  It is even more wonderful that God loves us too much to leave us there.

So when someone sins against you, forgive.  That is the word, obviously.  If they owe you a hundred talents and cannot pay, let it go.  Forgive.  Let love and mercy guide your hand.  If they then ask to borrow another ten talents, I don’t recommend it.   

Speak to them privately, and if they don’t listen, go with a couple of others.  If they still don’t listen, take them to the ones responsible for the community of faith.  If they still don’t listen, treat them like an outsider who needs to be evangelized – who needs to experience the real love and forgiveness of God – who needs to be changed and healed of their addiction.  But do NONE of this through anger, spite or hate.  Let go of ill will and ideas of getting even.  Instead, do ALL of this as God has done for us.  Mercy comes through forgiveness and love only comes because we care.


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