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The One Thing We Do Better than God
Matthew 18:21-35 November 7, 2021
In today’s scripture, Jesus is again teaching about the importance of forgiving ourselves and those who hurt us.
It seems that for us to understand we need to hear this message many times over, even though it is a lesson Jesus gives for our personal benefit.
I understand this ideal, yet it often feels unnatural to me, in some cases even impossible.
Well, Peter is getting the idea that we have to go beyond these hurts more than once.
Three times was the teaching of rabbis at the time.
To be generous, Peter decided to double that amount and then add another time to make it seven times.
Seven times, Jesus, isn’t that way more than expected?
But Jesus answered, (Matthew 18:22) I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Jesus is saying, “If you’re counting the number of times you have to forgive, then you haven’t forgiven.”
To make his point, Jesus tells a parable.
A king discovered that one of his civil servants – probably a contracted tax collector – owed him 10,000 talents, which was a sum essentially beyond calculation.
It took the average person fifteen years to earn a single talent, so you’re over your head when you start owing even a talent or two.
That’s even more than a student loan.
There’s no point in doing the math … 10,000 talents is an impossible sum to repay.
There is one thing that, being human, we can do better than God.
Know what that is?
Well, we’ll see in a minute.
To continue with the scripture, now it was the time of year when the king was going to settle accounts.
When a debt this large is called you know that life as you have known it is over.
Your house, cars, and everything you have worked so hard to get will be taken away.
As we heard, the servant fell to his knees and begged for the king’s patience, promising that he’d get the money soon.
Of course, the king wasn’t fooled – there is no way it could be repaid, so the king had every right to extract punishment.
When you’ve been wronged, you have every right to hold it over the other person; you have every right to want them to suffer; you have every right to play and replay, to hash and rehash the wrong inflicted on you.
That’s your right – that is what people expect of you.
But to everyone’s amazement, the king decided to forgive the debt and set the servant free.
That is the scandal of the Gospel.
This is where the discussion of forgiveness begins — not with how many times you have to forgive those who hurt you, but with how merciful God has been with you.
After his sin of raping his neighbor and then murdering her husband, David wrote,
Psalm 32:5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” – and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
Out of His steadfast love, God has forgiven and forgotten all about your sins.
The Bible says God doesn’t remember our confessed sins, but we sure do.
This may be the only thing we do better than God – remember sin.
Some of us just can’t believe that God would truly forgive us so we keep carrying around the guilt of what God has already let go.
If you pay $100 to a mechanic for repairing your car, he’ll stamp it “Paid” and that is the end of it.
Imagine if you showed up every afternoon wanting to pay it again?
On the cross, Jesus uttered the final words on your debt when he said, “Father, forgive!”
That means “paid in full.” Your debt is gone.
If we keep holding onto the guilt of what God has already forgiven, it means we haven’t accepted the forgiveness.
Maybe that means that we think what we did is so bad it can’t be forgiven, or that we do not deserve forgiveness.
Or maybe we hold on to the belief that we can pay off our debt to God on our own … that if we work hard enough, we’ll come up with the ten thousand talents we owe Him.
But the damage of our sin was to the heart of God.
How are you going to fix that?
Isaiah 43:25 God says, “I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”
Since God has extended forgiveness to you, your relationship with Him depends on your accepting the offer.
So really the only question is:
Will you sincerely bare your heart and confess?
Will you truly accept God’s forgiveness?
Will you begin your new life? … or will you turn away from God and insist on managing your guilt on your own?
But carrying around guilt is not the worst thing that happens to us when we do not accept God’s mercy.
The worst thing is that we do not become merciful.
A measure of how much we have taken God’s forgiveness to heart is in how we respond to those who need our mercy, and that is where Jesus’ parable picks up.
The servant who had been forgiven his unforgivable debt heads back home and runs into a fellow who owed him 100 denarii . . . that’s about $20.
He seizes this poor fellow by the throat and demands repayment, throwing him into debtors’ prison when he could not pay.
When the king heard about this, he was furious.
Matthew 18:32-33 … “You wicked servant,” he said, …“Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?”
Then he threw his ungrateful servant into prison until he could repay his debt … which of course meant a life sentence.
But you know that God doesn’t have to throw you into a physical prison because you build your own cell.
Our bitter heart locks us in behind bars of resentment, spite and anger.
Could it be that we persist in defining ourselves by our hurts?
Listen, if we really forgive, if we really release the emotional bond we have from past hurts, then we emotionally free ourselves from the hurt.
We don’t deny it happened, we don’t justify it or say it doesn’t matter, but we decide to release its continuing claim on our life.
Of course, this may take a lot of counseling and a lot of prayer, especially if those wounds go very deep.
I’m not minimizing that – and healing may be a lifelong journey.
But many of us have lesser resentments and betrayals that we’ve allowed to define who we are and justify bitterness we show ourselves and others.
If it wasn’t for all the bitterness people persist in carrying, many day-time talk shows would go out of business.
I don’t know a lot of folks who admit to enjoying the emotional voyeurism of the Jerry Springer Show, but somehow, he ran for 27 seasons and 4969 episodes.
His formula was simple: Gather guests who are undergoing some trauma like infidelity, then encourage them to pick their emotional scabs and bleed in front of a national audience.
Then Springer would just kindle hurt’s twin feeling which is anger, to the delight of his audience.
It is critical that we get in touch with our feelings, including our anger, but if we aren’t also moving toward healing then bitterness and resentment take up permanent residence in us.
Our wounds only heal because we worked through our anger, and the only way to give up the anger is to forgive.
You know why Jesus talked so much about forgiveness?
Because it is essential for a free and abundant life, and because it is so darn hard to do.
We all think forgiveness is a jolly good idea – but it can feel impossible.
That is why Jesus wants to partner with us through the process.
Forgiveness is giving up all hope for a perfect yesterday.
Forgiveness is no longer defining who I am today by some injustice done to me in the past.
Forgiveness is letting go of the anger and bitterness of a past event that continues to lay emotional claim to my present life.
For those of us who experienced a deep trauma, that may be a lifelong journey – but we travel with that hope and Jesus’ presence as our guide.
God forgave us and wants us to forgive others for His own sake because He delights in seeing His people loving and healthy.
For a while, two of our dogs, Bentley and Winnie, had a bitter dispute going.
They kept their distance from each other, they growled when the other came nearby.
Tail between his legs, Bentley was scared and often hid.
Winnie didn’t feel at home anywhere in the house.
I hated seeing them like that.
It hurt me … God experiences our bitter relationships like that.
Eventually, using whatever doggie language they needed, they worked it out.
Bentley has a private space, Winnie’s found his own place to sleep and there is peace between them.
They are happier … and so am I.
We forgive for God’s sake and for our own sakes, so that we can be free.
Lewis Smedes famously said, “When you forgive, you set a prisoner free and then you discover that prisoner was you.”
While a student at San Diego State University, Tariq Khamisa dreamed of working as a photographer for National Geographic.
To help support himself Tariq worked part-time delivering pizzas.
That’s when he had his tragic encounter with 14-year-old Tony Hicks.
The teen spent the evening drinking and smoking pot with several gang members and wannabes.
When they got hungry, they decided to call in a pizza order to a phony address and then rob the delivery person.
But Tariq arrived and refused to give up the pizza.
As he started to drive away, the group’s 18-year-old leader thrust a stolen handgun at Tony.
“Bust him, Bones, bust him,” he ordered, using the gang’s nickname for Tony.
Tony fired one shot.
The bullet smashed the car window, hit Tariq in the back and he slumped in the front seat of his white Volkswagen.
Tony became the youngest person in California to be charged as an adult, and as a convicted murderer he spent the majority of his sentence in maximum security prisons before he was released in 2019.
“It took me five years to develop enough courage to come and meet you,” Tariq’s father said during their meeting in a prison visiting room.
Before their meeting, Tony felt anxious.
He later explained, “I felt so horrible for what I did that I wanted to be able to do something to help you heal in some type of way.”
Azim remembered being surprised by Tony’s composure at the time.
“You didn’t portray any of the typical attitudes of a 19-year-old in our culture,” he said.
“I had to grow up and mature a little bit just to survive in there,” he told Azim.
Azim said that the first meeting with Tony was a painful moment.
“You know, one of the questions I had for you is if Tariq said anything to you, because you were the last person to see him,” he said.
“We locked eyes for a long time. It was painful.”
Tony called it “the most difficult conversation that I had in my life.”
“You were remorseful,” Azim told Tony.
“You took responsibility for your actions and in that moment, I got that the spark in you was no different than the spark in me.”
It was in that moment that Azim said he told Tony that he had forgiven him.
“Your forgiveness was heavy on me,” Tony later said.
“I didn’t feel like I was deserving because I knew what I had taken away from you.
“But your example gave me space to work on understanding that I was worth being forgiven.”
Azim explained, “I didn’t want to go through life in anger and revenge.”
He continued, “And after our first meeting, my stride was much bouncier leaving the prison than the one I’d walked in with.
… It was a gift, and I honor you for doing that.”
When Tony was released from prison at age 43, he said, “I wanted to go back to where I murdered Tariq and just bring my past and my present together in that moment. I wanted to reaffirm to Tariq I was a changed person, and that I wouldn’t squander this opportunity.”
Tony explained to Azim, “You are instrumental in the person that I am today, and I am extraordinarily grateful to know you and to have you in my life.”
“I liked what you said, Tony – ‘to bring your past and present together,’ ” said Azim.
“That pain is not a bad thing if it makes you a better person. That’s how I feel the journey has been for me.”
At the 1995 trial, Tony’s guardian — his grandfather, Ples Felix — had pledged to befriend the Khamisa family and help them in any way he could.
The two started a restorative justice foundation
in Tariq’s name called The Tariq Khamisa Foundation, and from their work together, Azim and Ples developed a deep friendship.
The world is full of unspeakable atrocities, and the wounded from war, starvation and abuse are all around us.
But most of us don’t toss and turn at night with indignation at those atrocities – most of us lie awake fantasizing about choking the person who owes us 20 bucks.
For me, a big breakthrough in my life came when I heard my minister, Dr. Peggy Bassett, in a sermon ask, “How long are you willing to allow your gaping wound to define you?”
How many of us are so consumed by our personal garden of hurts that we don’t stop and show mercy on the people around us?
The scandal of the gospel is that God forgave the unforgivable so that we can do likewise.