Finding the Lessons

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

September 11, Proper 19, Year A, or Ordinary Time 24

"The reduction of the gospel to forgiveness of sins misses the point of the gospel which is about making people whole."

First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 13, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.
Prayer Create in us a new heart, formed int he image of your Son, a heart strong enough to bear every wound and gentle enough to forgive each offense, that the world may see how your people love one another, and remember how much you love all that you have made.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts

William Loader writes:
The amount owed is huge, larger than the estimates of the value of whole economies. Try doing the arithmetic. A talent is around 6000 denarii; a denarius is a day's living wage. It is an absurd figure, so unreal, as to distract the hearer from the literal meaning to the point being made behind the story. God's forgiveness is also massive. 'Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors' is the literal translation of the standard Lord's Prayer as found in Matthew 6:12. Releasing debt was a common image for forgiveness. The rogue in Luke 16:1-7 who went out and forgave his master's debtors may be Jesus' parody on himself: he declared God's generosity and was declared a rogue servant who acted without recognised authority. The saying in 18:21-22 is also making its point by exaggeration: 77 times!

There are really three ideas that strike me about this passage.  The first is this notion that the forgiveness of God is abundant.  I am mindful that the custom of this time was to collect or sell the person into slavery and that we cannot miss the notion that God's abundant grace instead of slavery is one profound message of this parable.

The second idea that comes to me is the reality that we cannot read this passage without also thinking of the passage from Genesis where Lamech wants revenge seventy times seven.(Genesis 4)  In this passage we see the violence that has corrupted the ancient Hebrew family prior to the great flood. We are told that Lamech boasts that he has slain a young man for a seemingly minor offense.  He reminds his wives that the the Lord had pronounced that anyone slaying Cain in vengeance for his killing of Abel would be punished sevenfold. Lamech thinks that if anyone should try to slay him in vengeance there will be a 77 fold revenge. We are not told that this proposed revenge is of the Lord, so we must assume that it would be at the hands of Lamech's sons or family, or clan, or tribe. So it would appear that we have here an example of what so often is the case in tribal or clan warfare, the supposedly "injured" party wants revenge many many times over.

This is a powerfully true story and we can all think of times in our lives when we have taken offense or been angered into wanting such action on our behalf.  It speaks to our most basic instinct as creatures. And, I believe it is why Jesus' own statements about forgiving others are so powerful.  We can certainly spend time talking about the Grace of God and how we are exonerated from our own sins and slavery to them.  Yet, the more difficult part of the passage is the most obvious.  We are to act with others as God has acted with us. We are to be as magnanimous a forgiving agent as Jesus Christ was upon his cross: "Forgive them for they know not what they do." 

This is the third idea that strikes me and brings me up quite short. As one reads this chapter what becomes clear is that Jesus in Matthew's Gospel seems rather unconcerned with the individuals who transgress and more focused upon the person trying to live in the way of Jesus. Be humble Jesus tells us.  Do not despise others.  Do not allow anyone to be lost or to stumble.  Seek after the one who walks away.  If another person sins against you go and be reconciled with them.  You go and find them.  Take others and find them.  Go out and find them.  Be careful what slavery you cast on others as it will bind you.  Recieve the forgiveness of debt and likewise forgive others. 

Allison and Davies write in their Matthean work (vol II, 804):

...Jesus demands forgiveness without measure. The motivation for such unbounded generosity is imitation of the Father in heaven.  As he has forgiven undeserving Christans, so must they likewise forgive others, "Freely you have received, freely give."  The appropriate attitude towards a wayward brother is like that of a shepherd seeking a stray sheep.  The shepherd does not want to punish the stray but bring it back to the fold. 

You and I are to be like the shepherd in the parable, like our Lord Jesus, we are to seek out those who offend, sin, or hurt us. We are to be as forgiving and as loving as our Lord is.

This is a very difficult lesson.  In churches over the last decade something like 70% have dealt with conflict. Much of that conflict has caused people to leave and much of that conflict has sought to excommunicate the "other."  As a church we have not modeled with one another what Christ modeled for us; nor what we pray, "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespassed against us."  We have modeled and as a family of God shown the world that we do not live by the code we claim.  We have not forgiven as freely as we have received. We have not reconciled as willingly as we have been reconciled. We have not gone after our brother and sisters who have left with the same determination as a shepherd who has left his 99.

What must we do?  What must the church do?

We must do as Isaiah dreams in chapter two:
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

It seems that the real issue is that we as humans want to be the judge, we want to do the arbitrating, and we want to wield the sword of sentencing one another to the outer darkness. 

I think it is so difficult because forgiveness requires the embracing of the other who is most repugnant to you.  The fact is that regardless of whether you study mediation or you study the 12 steps or you study psychology or the bible what you find is that healing means most often coming to terms with the fact that the one you resent actually mirrors your own most despised part.  In other words you must forgive yourself and be reconciled with the parts of one's own self that are most grotesque to you in order to make space to forgive the other.

I pray that as a church we might actually do this work.  I would love to see a day when we as a church put down our swords, all of the various kinds, and we turned once again to the work of ploughing and pruning the missionary field.  This will take a great and conscious and prayerful effort on our part to turn to brothers and sisters who in the heat of argument have wounded us to the heart, and truly forgive in order to move forward into the mission field together.



A Little Bit for Everyone

The Scripture:
Matthew 18:21-35

21Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. 23“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

The Lambeth Bible Study Method
This Bible study method was introduced by the African Delegation to the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church. It is known by both names: "Lambeth" and "African." This method is derived from the practice of Lectio Divina. The entire process should take about 30 minutes.


The Kaleidescope Institute has reworked the questions somewhat and can be found here.


Question #5: "Briefly identify where this passage touches their life today," can change based upon the lesson. Find lesson oriented questions at this website: http://www.dcdiocese.org/word-working-second-question


Opening Prayer: O Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.


1. One person reads passage. This person then invites a member of the group to begin the process.


2. Each person briefly identifies the word or phrase that catches their attention then invites another person to share.


3. Each shares the word or phrase until all have shared or passed using the same invitation method.


4. The passage is read a second time, preferably from a different translation. The reader then invites a person in the group to begin the process.


5. Each person briefly identifies where this passage touches their life today, and then invites someone who has not shared yet.


6. The passage is read a third time, also from another translation, and the reader invites a person to start the process.


7. Each person responds to the questions, "What does God want me to do, to be or to change?"


8. The group stands up in a circle and holds hands. One person initiates the prayer “I thank God today for …” and “I ask God today for…” The prayer goes around the circle by squeezing the hand to your right.


9. When the circle is fulfilled, the person who initiated the prayer starts the Lord’s Prayer, “Our father..."


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