Sunday’s sermon: Willing to FORGIVE

Text used – Matthew 18:15-35

  • This year, throughout the season of Lent, we’re going to be exploring different facets of willingness. But willingness can be a complex thing.
    • Element of willingness that requires sacrifice – often a willingness to lay one thing aside or forgo one thing in order to shoulder another
      • Sometimes means a setting aside of self → making space for another
        • For the wisdom & experiences of another
        • For the concerns and challenges of another
        • For the needs of another
    • Can be an element of obligation to willingness → being willing to do something even though it may feel dull, compulsory, or rote
    • Willingness requires dedication → Even if whatever you’re willing to do is something obligatory, you have to be dedicated to something in order to keep doing it.
      • Dedicated to the person that asked you to do it
      • Dedicated to the cause/purpose behind it
      • Dedicated to an outcome or at least a potential outcome
      • This is sort of the way I view laundry. I’m willing to do it even though I find it the most dull and obligatory of household chores because I’m dedicated to the outcome: clean clothes! → a silly example, to be sure, but you get the picture
    • Willingness can also bear beautiful, unexpected fruit
      • So throughout Lent, we’re going to be walking through some of Jesus’ parables and teachings from the gospel of Matthew, each of which has something particular to say to us about the inextricable role of willingness in our faith.
        • Today: forgiveness
        • Next week: fairness
        • Also:
          • Responding to God’s call
          • Preparing to do God’s work
          • Generous welcome/hospitality
          • Reverence/honoring God
          • Going out and sharing our faith
  • Before we dive too deep into this morning’s passage, let’s situate ourselves in Mt’s gospel a little → made a pretty big jump from last week’s text out of Mt 7 to this morning’s text in Mt 18
    • Passage from Mt 7 last week was toward the end of Sermon on the Mount
    • Btwn then and today’s text
      • Lots of healing/casting out demons
      • Jesus calls his disciples
      • Lots of teachings, incl. other well-known parables
        • Parable of the sower/seeds[1]
        • Parable of the mustard seed[2]
        • Parable of the lost sheep[3]
      • Miracles like feeding the 5000[4] and Jesus walking on water[5]
      • Death of John the Baptist at the hands and whim of the Romans[6]
      • Even Jesus predicting his own death and resurrection not once but twice![7]
    • Suffice it to say that a significant portion of Jesus’ ministry has taken place. He’s built up quite the reputation between last week and this week!
  • Turning to this week’s text
    • Two separate sections of Scripture that don’t usually get stitched together in lectionary readings
      • Subtitles from my Common English Bible: “Sinning brother or sister” (vv. 15-20) and “Parable of the unforgiving servant” (vv. 21-35)
      • But the thread that does that stitching is clear: these passages are held together by forgiveness.
  • First section involves community in forgiveness
    • Beginning of passage talks about how to approach someone you’re having an issue with (or who has an issue with you)
      • First, approach them alone → Note: Jesus doesn’t say, “Blast them in a public forum like a community Facebook group or on Twitter.” I don’t know when our society made the turn from actually talking out differences/misunderstandings with one another in person to simply spouting all your frustrations on social media, but I don’t think it’s a turn that’s done us any favors.
        • Interesting to note here – text: If your brother or sister sins against you” → Gr. “sins” = word that carries implications of both intentional and unintentional harm → It’s a term used of archers not hitting their targets – of missing the mark. Jesus is reminding us that even when the harm done us unintended harm, we still need to make amends. We still need to be willing to seek and give forgiveness.
      • If one-on-one conversations don’t resolve conflict, bring others with you → Not as enforcers. Not as people to argue your point with you or for you. Jesus specifically calls them “witnesses” – people who can give an honest, first-hand account of further conversations if need be.
        • Neutral parties, not collaborators waiting to be tagged into the fight
      • If small group mediation doesn’t work, then bring in the rest of the body of faith → This isn’t an element of the church that we like to think about – the idea that we’re all called to keep one another accountable in our journeys of faith. But that’s what Jesus is saying. We’re here to help one another in many ways, and one of those ways is, in fact, conflict resolution. We’re here to help each other work things out with one another.
        • Scholar: Matthew is not prone to sugar-coating much of anything and he gives this subject the same treatment. He assumes the community will experience pain, conflict, struggle, and disagreement as they figure out what it means to be Christ-followers amid conflict, Roman occupation, and competing allegiances. While Matthew doesn’t shy away from his particular brand of intense and hyperbolic declarations, this text feels refreshingly honest about the struggles of living in community. In a time when so many in our churches are asking “Can’t we all just get along?,” Matthew answers “No. But we have a plan for that.”[8]
      • Another interesting thing to note here – text (Jesus): If they don’t pay attention even to the church, treat them as you would a Gentile and tax collector.[9] → Now, that may sound like a dismissive statement. After all, according to the Law, the Jews were supposed to keep themselves separate from the Gentiles. And in first-century Jewish society, tax collectors were detested and generally shunned. They were Jewish citizens who worked for the Roman empire – the occupiers. And yet, Jesus spent his days and his ministry with such as these.
        • Disciple Matthew = tax collector
        • Very often throughout the gospels, the first people (sometimes the only people!) to see Jesus for the Messiah that he is are not Jews but Gentile
        • Scholar: The call to treat [the offender] as a Gentile or a tax collector is not a call to exclude him permanently; after all, Jesus ate with Gentiles and tax collectors and sinners. So considering the offender to be like one them is not a call to shun him, but a call to reach out to him. The community must continue in its effort to make reconciliation a reality.[10] → This emphasizes the most important role that the community plays in forgiveness: the willingness to reach out, to seek reconciliation even when it’s hard. Because somehow it’s always easier to do hard things together.
        • Central context of a verse that we often quote in a totally different context: For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.[11] → So often, we cite this verse tenderly, reassuring one another that God is with us when we pray together, even if there are just a few of us gathered. And yet the context of this verse is not gathering for worship but gathering for conflict resolution.
          • Working to smooth out our rough edges that are scraping up against one another
          • Working to heal wounds, old and new
          • Working to bring peace to tension and frustration and misunderstanding
    • Jesus doesn’t promise that this will be an easy process, but it is a process that, if we’re willing, can bear the essential fruit of forgiveness.
      • Scholar: When taken seriously, it is a laborious process. To follow these many steps resists our very human inclination to cut people off who have hurt us or simply let people who have “made their bed, lie in it.” Instead, this is a procedure that insists that the spiritual and relational wellbeing of each person is something worth fighting for and restoration to community is worth our time and energy. In a time when political and social divisions seem to be driving us to opposite corners or, perhaps, separate Bible or book studies; when social media allows us to “unfriend” or “unfollow” those with whom we disagree; when we are invited into echo chambers where we are told those who are different are an adversary or even an enemy that threatens our capacity for success, this text invites us to remember our call as a community. This seemingly pedantic set of rules and regulations for communal living invites us to take seriously both the way our sin impacts others as well as our summons to restore kinship with one another.[12]
        • Heart of our worship practice of confession, assurance, and passing the peace
  • Idea of restoring kinship leads us into the 2nd portion of our passage this morning – “the parable of the unforgiving servant” → sort of plays out the steps that Jesus talks about in the first passage AND drives home the importance of forgiveness
    • First servant owe the king more money than he could ever earn in many lifetimes – “ten thousand bags of gold”[13] → servant begs the king to allow him to repay his astronomical debt instead of throwing him in prison → king goes a step above and forgives his entire debt
    • First servant turns around and seeks out another servant who owes him a paltry debt in comparison to the one that was just forgiven him – just “one hundred coins”[14] → first servant manhandles the second servant, ignoring the second servant’s pleas for time to repay the debt and instead having him thrown in prison
    • All witnessed by yet another servant who takes the matter to the king → king calls the first servant before him, reprimands him for his lack of compassion and reciprocal forgiveness → king has the first servant thrown in prison
    • Jesus’ final words: My heavenly Father will also do the same to you if you don’t forgive your brother or sister from your heart.[15] → Anyone who’s tried to forgive someone for something – which is basically anyone who’s been human for more than a minute! – knows that this is a hard ask. Forgiveness isn’t easy because hurts don’t fade quickly. Our bodies take time to heal when we’ve been injured – sometimes a long time – but even that healing time is miniscule when compared to how long it takes our souls to heal.
      • According to research, it takes 5 positive comments to offset 1 negative comment → And that’s just in terms of general feedback – constructive criticism. That doesn’t pertain to all the barbs and insults and brokenness that we verbally hurl at one another.
        • We taunt “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” … but we only toss out that patently false verse when we’ve already been hurt, right?
      • And yet Jesus implores us to forgive. Because we have all already been forgiven. Forever. Dang. It’s hard.
        • Scholar: Like the debt numbers in this parable, we have been recipients of grace in amounts that we can hardly count. If we do not forgive the transgressions of our human experience in light of the outrageous abundance of the way we have been forgiven, we are at risk of being convicted alongside the servant. We are being called to liberal forgiveness.[16] → Jesus implores us to forgive. So … are we willing? Amen.

[1] Mt 13:3-9, 18-23.

[2] Mt 13:31-32.

[3] Mt 18:10-14.

[4] Mt 14:13-21.

[5] Mt 14:22-33.

[6] Mt 14:1-12.

[7] Mt 16:21-23; 17:22-23.

[8] Kimberly Wagner, “Commentary on Matthew 18:15-35” from Working Preacher,

[9] Mt 18:17b.

[10] Ada María Isasi-Díaz. “Matthew 18:12-22 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels – Matthew, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 92, 94.

[11] Mt 18:20.

[12] Wagner.

[13] Mt 18:24.

[14] Mt 18:28.

[15] Mt 18:35.

[16] Dock Hollingsworth. “Matthew 18:21-35 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels – Matthew, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 102.

2 responses to “Sunday’s sermon: Willing to FORGIVE

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Willing to ACCEPT | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

  2. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Willing to RESPOND | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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