Reading Ramblings – September 11, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 11, 2016 – Lord’s Prayer 5th Petition

Texts: Genesis 45:1-15; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11; Matthew 18:21-35

Context: ** We continue our alternate text selections for the remainder of the liturgical year in order to preach through Luther’s Small Catechism ** Perhaps as American Christians, there can be no more fitting date to consider the difficult task of forgiveness than 9/11. Etched into our collective consciousness is this monumental affront, this act of hatred against our country and way of life. Forgiveness is central the Christian life, a matter not of human nature but divine power, allowing us to live freely in the grace of Christ by releasing the hatred and hurt caused by others.

Genesis 45:1-15 – Forgiveness is not conditional. It is not dependent on an explanation, an understanding, an apology, a resolution. Forgiveness simply is required of Christians. Sometimes we are blessed to see the arc of God’s actions in our lives, so that forgiveness is a joy-filled act of release that provides healing and closure for all involved. Joseph was sorely mistreated by his brothers. His life has been one of suffering as well as success. Yet despite the heights he has attained under the auspices of the pharaoh, his brother’s sin and guilt against him remains. Our sin against one another is not dismissed simply because our bad intentions don’t come to pass. Joseph forgives his brothers, perceiving God’s hand despite their own sin.

Psalm 32 – The grace and joy of forgiveness is palpable. Guilt can work terrible effects in our lives, spiritually, psychologically, and physically, and Psalm 32 captures the many-faceted aspects of guilt powerfully. We seek and receive the forgiveness of God, which should impel us to grant this same forgiveness to others. We cannot rightly receive and appreciate the forgiveness of God if we are unwilling to extend forgiveness to those around us, granting them the same reprieve from guilt that we have ourselves received in Christ.

2 Corinthians 2:5-11 – Scholars differ as to who and what Paul is writing about. The overall understanding is that Paul has suffered an attack on his dignity and authority. The attack was probably not directly against him, but perhaps against an intermediary acting in his behalf. Timothy is a likely possibility according to some scholars. Tertullian argued that Paul is dealing with the man mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5:1, who has rejected Paul’s authority in this matter. Most scholars are resigned that we cannot know the precise circumstances and persons involved. Nevertheless, Paul has been affronted, and has been punished by the censure of the Corinthian community and been reinstated after repentance. Now it is time to receive the guilty party back in good faith and love. This is the purpose of the ban from Christian community, to win the offending party back to the community through repentance and forgiveness. Paul makes it clear that he holds no grudge against the offending party and so neither should the Corinthians. To do so would be antithetical to the teachings of Jesus. If the guilty party has repented and received forgiveness from the Corinthians, then the guilty party and the Corinthians should know that their forgiveness is one with Paul’s. To act contrary, to withhold forgiveness, would be to allow Satan a victory in separating one of Christ’s sheep from the flock. So we must recognize refusal to forgive as no source of righteous vindication, but rather as a failure against the power and plans of Satan himself.

Matthew 18:21-35 – Without a doubt the most powerful and convincing parable regarding forgiveness recorded of Jesus. We forgive not out of the goodness of our heart or the kindness of our spirit, but out of the humble recognition of how much forgiveness we have received from Jesus Christ.

Note that the king acts according to the law. It is his right to punish the indebted servant the way he proposes to. He is not being unkind or cruel. Both he and the debtor understand that this is the natural course of events for failure to repay. The debtor, though he may sound sincere and apologetic to our ears, is anything but! The magnitude of his debt is so great that he can never hope to repay. He asks for a bargain, a bargain only tenable if the king is a fool. The debtor asks the king to pretend that his offer has any real merit, when clearly it doesn’t.

The king does not take up the bad offer, though. To do so would be to imprison the debtor in a life of fear and dread, a life of poverty and despair. Instead, the king rejects the debtor’s offer and instead eliminates the debt completely. His action refuses to treat the debtor’s offer as though there is any validity to it, because there isn’t. Rather, the king acts out of his mercy to eliminate the debt fully. The servant avoids not only physical imprisonment for himself and his family, but also avoids a lifetime of imprisonment spiritually and emotionally and psychologically, knowing that he can never make good on his offer. The servant’s offer is unreasonable both in that he cannot fulfill it and it does not actually save him from imprisonment. The king’s decree offers the man and his family true and complete freedom.

This makes the nature of the man’s unwillingness to be gracious to his fellow-servant that much more egregious. It is easy for us to assume that the servant is reported for being cruel – for demanding the full weight of the law against his fellow-servant rather than allowing him time to pay back his debt. But it seems more in keeping with the parable to assume that the servant is reported for failing to forgive the other debt completely, just as the king had done for him. We are exhorted and commanded to forgive, not simply to extend the repayment terms of those who wrong us.

Does this mean that we are not to collect debts owed to us? No, this is a misapplication of the parable. The issue is forgiveness, the free and loving act of setting ourselves free from the hate or worry or negativity that the actions of others cause us. While we may wish to reconsider our attitude towards those who are indebted monetarily to us, the parable applies better not to economic issues, but to matters of offense and sin. When we are sinned against, when we are offended, we are called to forgive. Forgiveness first acknowledges that real hurt has been suffered, and then volitionally commits the offended party to refusing to let that hurt define their relationship with the offender.

Forgiveness is not dependent on an apology. The offending party may refuse to acknowledge they have sinned against us, or may not be present any longer to offer an apology. We are still bound to forgive them. Forgiveness is a matter of our own heart and mind and soul, and really has little to do with the other person and their disposition towards us.

Refusal to forgive another person is not merely in poor taste, it puts us in jeopardy. We are not permitted the luxury of refusing to forgive someone else while expecting to enjoy the forgiveness of our Lord. We must at least acknowledge that forgiveness is expected, and acknowledge our reluctance to grant it. Then we can pray for the Holy Spirit’s power to enable us to forgive. But to refuse to forgive, and to refuse to ask God’s help to forgive, places us in danger of him withholding his forgiveness from us.


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