God’s Forgiveness is Priceless

September 13, 2020

Matthew 18:21-35

“Why should I say I am sorry?”

According to my mother, this was the response that I gave to her one time when I was younger and had just hit my older brother. I meant to do it because I was mad at him and therefore why should I apologize.

When we apologize, we quite often have the intent of hopefully receiving forgiveness from the person or peoples we have wronged. Of course, most of us know that this is not always the outcome. To give and to receive forgiveness requires a transformation within oneself. A transformation that I could not comprehend when I was 4.

Corrie ten Boom does share such a story that is both transformative and embraces the fullness of our loving God. Corrie was a Dutch Christian woman that stood up to Nazi Germany and did her part to protect Jewish citizens by hiding them in her house. When she was caught, she was imprisoned at the Ravensbruck concentration camp. At the end of the war, she would travel through Europe sharing her story and at one such engagement, recognized one of the former guards of Ravensbruck in the audience. To her dismay, he approached her at the end and explained to her how he was now a Christian and God had forgiven him, and he was hoping that maybe she could too. She became flush with anger and was reluctant to shake his outstretched hand. She shared the following:

And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. “Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand, I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”

For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.

To forgive does not come easily. It is not like a medication the doctor gives you and after taking all of it you are better. Forgiveness is a long and difficult process that requires much prayer and meditation to fully meet the person at a place of love. The same place where God meets us.

We have two lessons today that speak to the very heart of forgiveness. We are familiar with the story of Joseph and how he came to serve Pharaoh after his brothers sold him into slavery.  Yet, at the death of their father, Jacob, there must be a reconciliation. The type of reconciliation that we spoke of last week and that Jesus taught his disciples should there ever be an issue that needed to be addressed. When his brothers seek forgiveness, they are quite leery of what Joseph’s response may be. He is overcome with tears and they share in a great forgiveness. Joseph’s grace and mercy comes to them as he tells them he will provide for them and their little ones.

In the parable Jesus shares this morning we have a gracious and merciful king that forgives a servant that owes 10,000 talents. This amount would have caught all by surprise as Jesus shared the parable, because how could an individual accrue so much debt. It is so great that it would be bigger than the amount a small country may have in GDP. Yet, to emphasize the grace and mercy of a forgiving God, the king forgives the entire debt owed by the servant.

Next is when our gospel lesson takes a turn! That same servant has learned nothing about grace and forgiveness even though he just had his exorbitant amount of debt wiped clean. As soon as he leaves the palace, he encounters a servant that owes him 10 denari. Now, this is such a minimal amount that forgiveness should come easy. However, he does not even want to give him time to repay. He wants it now and when he does not receive it, has him jailed. Of course, word gets back to the king and he revokes the forgiveness of the debt he had previously wiped clean.

Perhaps, you have not done this yourself, but I am sure that most of us can point to similar stories of where we have seen an equivalent of this happening.  Even when we receive forgiveness, it can be easy to hold grudges because that grudge is embedded in our heart. Maybe we find it hard to forgive someone because we have not received forgiveness ourselves. Perhaps, we are just so busy naval gazing that we cannot get beyond what is in it for us!

Yet, in both stories, we have grace and mercy. And we have it in abundance. There is a cost to not learning to forgive and that cost is held in our very being. It weighs us down and studies have even shown that it can shorten our lives.

To come to forgiveness is not easy and it may take several years. God’s desire is for us to be transformed and our hearts made anew. To be forgiven and learn to forgive ourselves is a transformation that opens our hearts up to the even greater possibilities that God has for us in life. To open our hearts means that we are flushing away all the anger, resentment, and desire for revenge.

As we pray the Lord’s prayer, we ask that God forgive us as we forgive others. Do you truly live this out? Sometimes this forgiveness looks radical and when we do so, we may get questioned by others. Yet, this is where our Christian faith leads us. It leads us to those places in our society where love lacks and calls us to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. Good News that reveals God’s forgiveness is priceless.

By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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