Last week you may have heard me reference the second line of this mornings gospel, when I spoke about living in community and the importance of living into authentic relationship together. Forgiveness was a major theme in Jesus’ ministry, and this morning’s Gospel, we hear a parable, telling a story, one of his favorite teaching tools. A story many around him could relate to as a class of people who in all probability, were themselves slaves in one way or another to a King or a Lord. In Jesus’ time, the majority of the people were indentured servants because of owing money, or agricultural tributes to their landowners or lords.
In todays story, a slave is forgiven his debt after his lord had pity on him. A debt of ten thousand talents. A second chance at freedom from a burden impossible to repay. To put it into perspective, a talent equals approximately 75 pounds of gold, or seven and a half billion dollars in todays money. 6,000 plus days wages. There was of course some shock value in this story Jesus told, I can’t imagine anyone lending their servant such a vast sum, but it wasn’t the amount of money owed as much as the point made in the story. This slave then goes to one who owe him money, and instead of forgiving this persons debt of 100 denari, a sum equal to only 100 days wages he has him imprisoned. Hearing this, after he himself had forgiven the slave his debt, the King then has the slave tortured until he can repay the debt. The point we learn from the parable I think is a reminder that forgiveness can sometimes be the hardest and most costliest thing we can ever offer one another and its not the easiest thing to do. But as Christians, we have the example of Christ to follow, sharing the same love he had for all people with one another, forgiving where we can, many times working to forgive ourselves.
Today in our church we celebrate Holy Cross day, a day also known as the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. This is a day in which we pray and reflect on and venerate the cross, perhaps the most important symbol of our faith. The cross was in Roman times a symbol of absolute terror and suppression. A tool used to punish the worst of the worst. This very symbol was later taken up by Christians and turned into a symbol of hope for people to turn to instead of away from. The cross represents Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for us, for the forgiveness of our sins. A place where Christ in being sacrificed and broken offers us forgiveness once and for all. His last words beings Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. Similarly, we’re reminded of his sacrifice in our Eucharists, when we hear each week the words of Jesus at the last supper saying, take, eat, this is my body, broken and given for you.
There’s a great expression that says in part, “God doesn’t use perfect people. His grace flows best through broken people.” And I think that’s where this story today come in handy. Because the truth is, we are sometimes more like the servant in this story than we care to realize. That at times we find ourselves receiving forgiveness, but we then do not break ourselves open to in turn give it to others. We leave church on Sundays with a feeling of our sins forgiven and then later in the week, we get angry, irritable with the people that upset us, and we walk away without offering the same reconciliation or forgiveness we were graced with.
Following Jesus involves our not only accepting His forgiveness but it also requires us to break ourselves. To open ourselves up to let the Holy Spirit change us from the inside, filling us with love and patience, and goodness, and changing how we relate with one another. Forgiveness presents a great opportunity for us. It creates space for new life and new avenues of thought. It heals us and takes us out of darkness into light, and as Christ shows us, from death to life. Forgiveness is an act of hope and a way of resurrection for us to begin relationships anew. Every Sunday, and every day if you have a regular prayer habit, we say the Lord’s prayer, and in it we ask “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We pray those words with ease but how do we then live them out? Do our actions later on support our request in this prayer? By letting go of negative thought, resentment and anger we allow ourselves space for grace us to enter in, so that we might live and love again.
Matthew earlier along in this gospel reminds us “If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15). When we hear this, it can almost be offensive. It makes God seem almost coldhearted and uncaring. But it is written in such a way that it forces us to put aside any wiggle room. It keeps us from deceiving ourselves that holding onto destructive pain that others have caused us is okay, and that we really don’t need to forgive that person again and again. Jesus reminds us there is no wiggle room; “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” The GREATEST reason God instructs us to forgive those who wrong us is for our own good. Forgiveness allows us to hold onto hope instead of anger, and a future instead of the bitterness of the past.
So how do we begin to forgive? There is no easy answer, Forgiving takes time and work and prayer. Its something we must practice every day. And it begins with recognition and thanksgiving that we have already been forgiven. That forgiveness does not originate in us. It began with God and is about God and his hope and the deep love he has for us as his created. He recognizes that in our brokenness we require forgiveness again and again, and that we also require the chance to try again. In his love for us, he offers us choice and a chance to get it right if we fail. And in response, we through our breaking ourselves open in turn do the same, we reach out and forgive. And we must always remember; we do not simply choose to forgive, we choose to share the love and forgiveness we have already received. And then we share that forgiveness again, and again, and again. “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” A practice that we live into freely and openly, because forgiveness is the choice God calls us make.
So let us pray;
Gracious and loving God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant in your love for us to help all of us to forgive as we have been forgiven. Heal our emotions that have been wounded and teach us how to love and forgive unconditionally as you forgive us. Continue to extend Your love and mercy toward us, reminding us through the power of your Holy Spirit to use Your power, living inside us, which helps us in all things. Help us to forget the past so that we can move forward to the future you wish for us as we press toward the mark of our higher calling in Christ Jesus. AMEN