Forgiveness Stimulates Forgiveness
Indianapolis First Friends
Pastor Bob Henry
September 17, 2017
Matthew 18:21-35 (NRSV)
21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church[a] sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven[b] times.
23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents[c] was brought to him; 25 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. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii;[d] and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 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. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister[e] from your heart.”
The concept of forgiveness is extremely important in our world today. Some consider forgiveness the business of the church, and if that is true, I would ask, how well are we doing?
David Zenon Starlyte in an article on Beliefnet titled, “Why Radical Forgiveness” says this,
“It seems that in today’s world, selfishness, lust for power, hatred, violence and other unwanted dramas are still very much at play. The despair and separation seems to be reaching saturation point. It is an invitation to consider what historian Charles Beard said when asked what he had learnt from history, “when it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”
It is similar to several conversations I have had over the last couple weeks, where I find myself sharing an illustration from a Brian McLaren conference I attended 8 or so years ago at Goshen College. It was when gas prices had sky-rocketted to $4 a gallon and people were grumbling about the high cost of driving. A heckler had come to question Brian and before he even stepped on the stage to speak the heckler asked out loud and in a sarcastic tone for everyone to hear, “Hey Brian, what did you drive here today!” Now, Brian was talking about making a major shift in thinking about ecological issues and their relationship to theology and the church. He knew this heckler was trying to back him into a corner and make a point. Calmly, Brian said, “I drove a Prius. But there is two ways I can answer your further questions, we can talk about my carbon footprint or we can talk about what needs to happen right now in our world.” Brian didn’t miss a beat - he looked at the man and said, “Do you know what high gas prices should do?...(without giving the man a chance to respond, Brian continued…) “They should cause people who think differently and creatively to make better cars.”
Looking back, it is interesting, that in the past 10 years, we have seen the largest production of high efficient, eco-friendly, battery-powered cars. This shows us that it matters how we individually respond to our times, because the change is going to first come from within you and me.
“When it’s dark enough, you can see the stars.”
When the gas prices are high enough, you can make better cars.
And when we are so divided as people groups, religions, cultures, and nations, you can be better people - and I believe that starts with forgiveness.
Currently, we are in one of those times in our nation and world. And the question is what are we going to do? Whether it is time for reformation, whether it is time to return to our roots as Quakers, whether it is time to make changes in our seemingly dying faith, one thing that is clear is that our world is crying out for help and we are called to respond.
Sadly, we have learned well to draw lines. Actually, our country was founded on drawing lines and living out an “us vs them” reality. To much of the world lives in polarities and has lost any sense of coming together for a greater good.
If we are people of peace and we are seeking peace, we must heed the words of Jesus in our text for today. Peace is not resolved through hatred and division, but by first humbling ourselves and changing our own hearts and finding ways to reconcile and forgive.
“If the past taught us anything, it is that conflict stimulates more conflict. So, too, forgiveness stimulates more forgiveness.”
Let me say that again - “Forgiveness stimulates more forgiveness.”
Where on the news are we hearing stories of radical forgiveness? It is very limited even rare these days.
I believe the reason is that forgiveness is very personal. It takes commitment and a personal wrestling in our own hearts and souls. Some would say we have to count the cost of forgiveness and know if we truly want to reconcile and forgive those that have hurt, abused, or treated us wrongly.
Most likely you have heard our text at some time in your life. It probably has been conveyed in many different ways depending on your upbringing and church affiliation, but the more I consider what Jesus was doing, I see it as a window into what I will label “the mind of Christ.” Something we are going to be exploring throughout this fall from the pulpit.
What we have in our text this morning is a picture of a severely merciless king who takes pity on a simple servant who owes him a huge debt. And we have a picture of a common person who has been shown tremendous mercy unwilling to extend it to someone else.
We can get caught up with trying to make this about certain people and making God the merciless king, but I think we would be totally missing the point spending time trying to make that connection.
Jesus has just made a major point to Peter - when you forgive, (and let me put it in the Pixar translation) forgive to infinity and beyond. Not 7 times but seventy seven (or as some translations say seventy times seven) all another way in Jesus’ day of saying “beyond count.” - or to infinity and beyond - either way Jesus was meaning never stop forgiving.
Then Jesus does what he does on numerous occasions he has those gathered sit down for a story or lesson to illustrate his point. What Jesus gives us is an example of what this looks like lived out in the Kingdom of God. When Jesus does this he is literally saying,
Let’s get into the larger mind.
This is what it looks like.
This is how you do it.
Let me help you see.
In Greek its call metanoia. Meta means beyond and noia means mind - so Jesus is trying to take us beyond our own minds. It is interesting because metanoia is actually the word we often translate “repent” - to make a change or turning from sin.” But what Jesus is really calling us to do is see beyond our own minds into God’s mind.
We are such literalists that we look so hard at the characters to represent certain people and even try to apply it to others to make us feel better - but the point is for us as individuals to learn the struggles of our own hearts and minds and to transcend our own thoughts and align ourselves with the “Mind of Christ.”
In the story Jesus tells, we are presented a double standard of sorts regarding radical forgiveness and mercy. If forgiveness is to stimulate more forgiveness...in this example it does not happen. Actually, the one who is forgiven, does just the opposite to the next person he comes across.
Often Jesus gives us “negative example parables” to learn from and to prompt our minds to get us out of our ruts and thinking. When we begin to realize that we so desire forgiveness and reconciliation with our neighbors, but often don’t take the opportunities afforded us to give forgiveness and mercy to others, we then seem to have an inner crisis.
It is when we are presented this that God wants us to have a moment of metanoia - a moment of going beyond our mind into how God thinks about forgiveness and its possible impact.
David Zenon Starlyte sheds some light on this process as it relates to our personal struggles with forgiveness. He says,
“When you liberate yourself, you automatically liberate others. Choosing goodness crosses the barrier of ego limitation, and invites others to walk with us, as our light is shared amongst others. Radical forgiveness is a broader gift – an act of grace and service to humanity. It’s a process of final resolution, release and healing. Radical forgiveness is not sensible, rational, logical or “right” – it’s an invitation to open the heart to acting completely and unconditionally loving without a selfish motivation. Not that one doesn’t get something out of forgiving. Forgiveness is an act of self-love – it gives a double gift, rewarding both the giver and the receiver. That’s why forgiving and letting go is the most powerful choice one can make for oneself and for humanity.”
In the mind of Christ, forgiveness is a radical, liberating, life changing, releasing, healing, and the most powerful act we can engage.
The whirlwind of crazy we find our world in is crying out for people to embrace a position of radical forgiveness. To break down barriers of hate, fear, privilege, and selfish motivations, God calls us to transcend our own thoughts of revenge, retaliation, and division and find ways to extend radical forgiveness. It may take time, some personal metanoia, and lots and lots of humility. Yet when we attempt to live out the mind of Christ in our world, we will see change.
Forgiveness stimulates Forgiveness.
So, as we go into waiting worship, let’s take a moment to look at the queries in the bulletin.
Who do I have a hard time forgiving? Why?
What metanoia needs to take place in my heart to be able to forgive?
How might forgiveness lead to peace in my world?