Pentecost 15 – Sunday, Sepetember 17, 2017

September 17, 2017  

Matthew 18:21-3

We are still answering the question about greatness.

Last week I told people the gospel we read was part of a long answer to a short question. The question: Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?

The answer, as I tried to illustrate last week, is complicated.

Martin Luther, in his sermon on this text, wrote that the slave should have paid his debt. It was a matter of justice for Luther. If you owe something to someone, you pay what you owe. Luther said that, if any of us were the king we would have expected to be paid back. And, if any of us were the slave, we would have carried the burden of our debt. The debt would have weighed on us enough, we would have wanted to pay it back (Luther, “Twenty-Second Sunday After Trinity” in Sermons on the Gospels, p. 356-369).

In the 21st century… I don’t think so. Debt is common. Most of us have debts we need to pay. We know we need to pay them. But it isn’t such a big deal to us that we have them. I’m not sure they weigh on us… although maybe they do. Particularly if money is tight or is absent… as it seemed to have been for the slave.

Knowing how common debt is in our lives, let me put this slave’s debt in perspective. He owed the king 10,000 talents. 10,000 talents is equivalent to $6 million for us.

The slave owed the king $6 million!!!

Knowing that, let’s ask: what kind of king allows someone to pile up a $6 million debt?

A mighty generous king!

The king didn’t just free the slave from debt. He also freed him. From slavery.

This is just a story—an illustration.

Jesus tells the disciples the story to illustrate his point.

Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?

Those who forgive.

He is no fool, our Jesus. He understands human nature. He understands enough to know what the freed slave would do next. Jesus knew that slave would turn around and do to someone else exactly the opposite of what was done to him. He called in a debt. When the debtor couldn’t pay him, the freed slave had the debtor thrown in jail.

If you are inclined to want to judge this man—think again. Think again because, that freed slave is every man, and that freed slave is every woman, every person. He is you and he is me.

God promises us that EVERY DAY we will awake free people. We are free from the burden of our sins. We are free to begin again, we are free to start over, we are debt free. Yes, we sinned against God. Yes, we turned away from God. We sin, we turn away ALL THE TIME.

God promises us, when we sin, we are forgiven. God promises us, when we turn away God will turn back to us, not turn God’s back on us. That’s what God’s grace is all about. That’s what the gift of God’s grace means. We are free.

I’ve been ignoring the rest of the story. I don’t like the rest of the story. I don’t like that the king calls the freed slave back and has him tortured.

Matthew wrote that Jesus said “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

I disagree with Matthew. I can’t imagine Jesus saying what Matthew said he said. I think Matthew was trying to make a point to his first century readers. I don’t like his point. He forgets, God gave Jesus to the world, not to condemn the world but to save it.

Luther wrote:

For as the sun shines and gives light none the less, although I close my eyes, so this mercy seat or forgiveness of sins stands forever, though I fall. And as I see the sun again as soon as I open my eyes, so I have forgiveness of sins again when I look up and again come to Christ (sermon for Twenty Second Sunday After Trinity).

God’s love is always there.

God’s grace is always there.

God’s promise, to forgive our sins, is real and that promise is constant and that promise is yours and that promise is mine.

Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?

None of us.

All of us.

God’s love is great.

God’s love makes us great.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.