Sermon Outline On Matthew 18:21-35
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
A story tells that two friends 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 FRIEND SLAPPED ME IN THE FACE.”
They kept on walking until they found an oasis, where they decided to go into the water. The one who had been slapped got stuck in the mire and started drowning, but the friend saved him. After he recovered from the near drowning, he wrote on a stone: “TODAY MY BEST FRIEND SAVED MY LIFE.”
The friend who had slapped and saved his best 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.” (1)
Today’s scripture lesson seems to be about forgiveness. Peter asks, “How many times should we forgive a member of the church who sins against us?” “Should we forgive 7 times?”
What we need to know is Peter was being very generous. The Rabbinic tradition from Amos 1-2 was 3 times.(2) Peter more than doubled what was Jewish tradition. Peter asks, “Seven times?”
Jesus response is interesting. According to what we read, Jesus had a number in mind. “Seventy-seven times,” he says. Many modern translations say, 77. They then provide a footnote suggesting an alternate translation of 70 x 7. But Jesus’ answer was not a number. Most folks agree that the difference between Peter’s proposal and Jesus pronouncement has nothing to do with math or linguistics. Jesus is speaking of the nature of forgiveness which goes beyond calculations and counting.
Jesus then tells a strange little story to illustrate his point. It is the story of a King who wishes to reconcile debts. A servant who owes the King 10,000 talents is called before the King, and the King demands payment. The servant begs for patience. Patience! If that servant gave the King every penny he earned, it would take him 150,000 years to pay off that debt.(3)
The King does something strange. The King totally forgives the debt. But the servant does something even stranger. The forgiven servant sees a fellow servant who owes him 100 day’s wages. When the debtor asked for patience, he finds himself thrown in jail.
If Jesus had stopped there, this would have been a story about forgiveness that would be much easier to understand. It would have been an incredible story about Grace. But Jesus didn’t stop there.
The King returns, reinstates the debt, and tortures the ungrateful servant. Jesus often leaves this kind of story open for interpretation. Jesus seems to make it clear that there is judgment as well as forgiveness. Fundamental to the Christian life is forgiveness. Equally fundamental to the Christian life is judgment. Forgiveness is not easy. Forgiveness is healing. No forgiveness leads to judgment.
A little boy visiting his grandparents was given his first slingshot. He practiced in the woods, but he could never hit his target.
As he came back to Grandma’s back yard, he spied her pet duck. On an impulse he took aim and let fly. The stone hit, and the duck fell dead.
The boy panicked. Desperately he hid the dead duck in the woodpile, only to look up and see his sister watching. Sally had seen it all, but she said nothing.
After lunch that day, Grandma said, “Sally, let’s wash the dishes.”
But Sally said, “Johnny told me he wanted to help in the kitchen today. Didn’t you, Johnny?” And she whispered to him, “Remember the duck!” So Johnny did the dishes.
Later Grandpa asked if the children wanted to go fishing. Grandma said, “I’m sorry, but I need Sally to help make supper.” Sally smiled and said, “That’s all taken care of. Johnny wants to do it.” Again she whispered, “Remember the duck.” Johnny stayed while Sally went fishing.
After several days of Johnny doing both his chores and Sally’s, finally he couldn’t stand it. I confessed to Grandma that he’d killed the duck.
“I know, Johnny,” she said, giving him a hug. “I was standing at the window and saw the whole thing. Because I love you, I forgave you. I wondered how long you would let Sally make a slave of you.”
Isn’t it interesting that we put off asking God for forgiveness, like by not asking, we are keeping the knowledge from God. Johnny’s life was miserable until he confessed and asked forgiveness. Our lives are miserable until we confess and ask for forgiveness.
Jesus uses this parable to put our understanding of forgiving one another under the light of God’s forgiveness of us. How can we not forgive one another when God has gone to extremes to bring forgiveness to us? Jesus was saying that we are to be utterly extravagant and unlimited in our forgiveness of other. He didn’t say it. He commanded it.
There was once this old rancher who was tough, mean. One day, one of his cowboys was caught stealing a cow from the rancher’s herd. When the cow boy was dragged before the rancher, and the old rancher looked down at him, the cowboy trembled in his boots.
“Hang him,” said the rancher. “It will teach him a lesson.”
Well, time came for the old rancher to die. He died and found himself standing before his Maker. When God looked down from his great throne, the rancher thought about his life, all the mean things he had done, the way he had lived. He trembled in his boots.
“Forgive him” said the Lord. “It will teach him a lesson.”(4)
This parable about forgiveness and judgement is full of violence and revenge. Will Willimon reminds us, “This story, which is brutal and violent, is told by the one who refused, when wronged, to use brutality or violence. When wrong was done to him, he did not say, ‘I’ll get you back for this!’ You know what he said, ‘Father, forgive them.'”(5)
1. Received in an e-mail.
2. Richard Donovan, SermonWriter for Proper 19A (Sept15), 1Sep2002.
3. Fred Craddock, John Hayes, Carl Holladay, Gene Tucker, Preaching through the Christian Year, A, 442.
4. William Willimon, Pulpit Resource, Vol. 21, No. 3, 46.
5. William Willimon, Pulpit Resource, Vol. 30, No. 3, 57.