Finding the Lessons

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Monday, September 8, 2014

Proper 19A/Ordinary 24A/Pentecost +14 September 14, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think


"Forgiveness in the Gospel of Matthew is not only relational it is reciprocal and reliant."Commentary, Matthew 18:21-35, Karl Jacobson, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"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.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

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. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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


Some Thoughts on Matthew 18:21-35

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

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.



"Paul provides three reasons for the advice to bear with those who think and act differently from oneself on matters of belief and practice."
Commentary, Romans 14:1-12, Mary Hinkle Shore, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"This section of Romans makes it clear that divisions in the church go back to the earliest churches."
Commentary, Romans 14:1-12, Mark Reasoner, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

"Paul's flexibility is rooted in his vision of Christ."
"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 13, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia

I am in need of this passage today. I was just on the Facebook and reading as conservative Christians harp on how unChristian the liberal Christians are and then reading the post below it on from a liberal Christian harping on how unChristian the conservative Christians are...  We spend a lot of time on this pointing fingers back and forth and arguing over our little piece of Christian pie.  We have all got it figured out and intend to tell the others how they don't.  In my opinion this is poor modeling for Christian community and takes our mind off the more difficult work of being missionaries of God's love in the world.

I am grateful to get to Paul's lesson in Romans. It reminds me that we are not the first church to have problems or people intent on tearing each other down.  It reminds me that people in Church have been arguing with one another since the two disciples argued over who would sit next to Jesus.  

Here is what Paul has to say about conflicts.  

Those who are weak in faith will make their habit the focus on things that are not about God's mission of love, mercy, and forgiveness. The weak in faith will focus their attention on others and place themselves in the judgement seat of God. They will be about the work of minutia and non essentials. Those who are strong in their faith will be focused upon God's purposes.

He writes:
2Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.5Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. 6Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.
He then basically says...so what business is it of yours?

Chris Haslaam reminds me of this particular bit of wisdom which comes in the form of context which is known to Paul's readers:
In Roman society, it was considered ill-mannered to “pass judgement” (v. 4) on the conduct of another master’s servant; he was answerable to his “own lord” or master. Similarly, each Christian is answerable to “the Lord” and should not be criticized.
What is important is that you are responsible to your own convictions and answerable for the living and the dying that is your work. You are not to judge others, to judge their conduct, or how they worship.  You will be accountable to God. They will be accountable to God.
Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” 12So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
Moreover, we should not do anything that might harm another person's faith.  Paul writes that we are to focus on the best things and "pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding”

All followers of God in Christ Jesus are to live in a manner consistent with one's conscience in order to be in relationship with God.  Your faith is yours alone and not dependent upon any body elses.  It is the person who is weak in faith that believes that how another lives or moves or has their being affects them.  One is never made righteous by being better than someone else or demeaning another human being.  That was the point of Jesus confrontation with the religious leaders of the day.

Our mission initiatives would be stronger and see great results if we all started judging less and started welcoming the other more.




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