The Spiritual Protein of Forgiveness

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Proper 19/Year A ▪ September 13, 2020
Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35

The Spiritual Protein of Forgiveness

Our Father who art in heaven, forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

We enter into the gospel passage in Matthew today, as Peter attempted to gain clarity on the limits of forgiveness. Peter asked Jesus just how many times he must forgive his offender.  Jesus corrected Peter’s assumption of seven times, and said, “Not seven…seventy-seven times.” Based on the Bible translation, this could also mean 70 times seven (490 times). The point is not one of calculation, however. The point is that the one who has a heart of forgiveness must grant it so generously that keeping score is impossible.

Jesus said, “…The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle his accounts with his slaves” (v. 23). The NIV Bible translation of “slave” serves us better, as the slave in this parable is actually a subordinate official—a servant of the king entrusted with the caretaking of the king’s resources. Upon discovering that the servant had mismanaged his resources to such an extreme that the king ordered the servant, his family and his possessions be sold in order to make restitution.

One talent was the value of more than 15 years’ wages of a laborer. The servant owed 10,000 talents which would mean 15,000 years of wages. Even in selling the people and the material possessions the unimaginable debt could never be satisfied.  The king and the servant mutually understood this fact.  Yet, falling on his knees the servant pleaded with intention to pay, and requested his lord’s patience.  Out of compassion for his servant, the king set him free and forgave his debt with no strings attached.

When that newly-forgiven, newly-freed servant crossed paths with a fellow official who owed him  100 days’ worth of wages, he violently attacked him and imprisoned him, even as the debtor fell on his knees begging for patience in his debt repayment.  Compared to the outrageous amount owed by the crooked servant, this servant’s debt was microscopic, but a debt nonetheless. Yet, the crooked, uncompassionate servant, who had literally been granted a new lease on life, refused to extend the liberating gift of forgiveness, and imprisoned his fellow servant until he repaid his debt.

Then, in verse 31, the parable takes an abrupt turn. The violent encounter, devoid of mercy, would have gone unnoticed by the king. So, how did the king get involved? Witnesses! Witnesses, described as greatly distressed, reported the public incident to the king, catalyzing his swift reversal of fortune for the wicked servant. It seems that there was one non-negotiable string attached to the king’s forgiveness—that the one who had been freed by his generous gift of forgiveness was expected to do unto others as it had been done for him.  Having failed to do so, his debt was reinstated, and he was sentenced to torture until he would repay his debt that could never be repaid. His heart of unforgiveness led to a life sentence of torture.

Sandwiched in between forgiveness and unforgiveness is compassion. We look to the distressed witnesses who became change agents, fueled by their compassion to act on behalf of their fellow servant. The community saw something that did not align with their moral standards, and they said something. They did not turn a blind eye, nor did they remain silent; they acted, and sought the king’s intervention.

Sixteenth-century orator, philosopher and politician, Edmund Burke, said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Today, the kingdom of Heaven might look a lot like the actions of those compassionate witnesses who used their collective voice to give voice to the voiceless.  Christ’s followers must not turn a blind eye, nor remain silent in the face of the publicly-witnessed, ongoing injustices created by institutional racism woven into the very identity of this country.

We might seek to glimpse the kingdom of Heaven in the multitude of peaceful protests, speaking out against police brutality against Black Americans across this nation—the collective voice of traumatized people and distressed witnesses used to advocate for generations of ignored and silenced voices.  As the body of Christ, the church is to witness to behaviors in our society that fuel the sin of broken relationship. As such, we must respond to human need by loving service and seek to transform unjust structures of society, like those distressed witnesses in the parable.

Last week the Gospel focused on Jesus’ call for the body of Christ—the church—to practice the discipline of self-care by confronting sinful behavior within the faith community and holding offenders of the community accountable in love.  But how? Well, there is an integral component of self-care which may not surprise you. That component is nutrition.

I am reminded of an agent of healing found in every cell of the human body—protein.  Protein is the necessary building block of our bones, muscles, skin and even the blood that runs through our veins, and it is necessary to repair the body’s  tissues.  Consider that just as protein builds up and repairs the body’s physical tissues; God’s forgiveness functions as the necessary spiritual protein that builds up and heals the wounds of the sin-sick soul.  Forgiveness as a spiritual protein found within the body of Christ—which structures a faith community and repairs its relational wounds with God, with each other and ourselves.

God is not like the king who granted the wicked servant his mercy and forgiveness—and took it back.  Through one baptism for the forgiveness of sins, the baptized emerge with the indissoluble divine protein of God’s forgiveness that forever binds us to Christ in his death and resurrection.

Today, within this faith community, confess your sins against God and your neighbor, receive God’s everlasting mercy, and know that all of your sins are forgiven through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Today, within this faith community, as you eat the sacrament of the body of Christ, taste God’s forgiveness; it is the necessary spiritual building block for all souls being nurtured to the full stature of Christ.

In the person of Jesus Christ, the very nature of God, who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Ps 103:8) came near to humankind, and is coming again. Therefore, let us, with God’s help, strive to be generously merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful (Lk 6:36).  In the meantime, we are to do the hard, necessary work of building up God’s kingdom here on earth, as protein-rich instruments of God’s mercy and forgiveness.  Amen.