How do you treat a sinner? How do you treat one who has sinned against you, who has done something so grievous toward you or someone you love?
On September 6, 2018, Police Officer Amber Guyger was coming home from her overnight shift. She was tired. As she walked into what she thought was her apartment, she saw a young man there and so she instinctively thought he was an intruder. In a means to defending herself, she shot the intruder and killed him. After everything was over, she realized it wasn’t her apartment, hers was on another floor.
The jury founder Officer Guyger guilty of murder for shooting 26-year-old Botham Jean. At the sentencing hearing, the day after her conviction, Botham’s 18-year-old brother spoke to her from the stand. Amongst other things he said, he said this, “I forgive you. And I know if you go to God and ask Him, He will forgive you. I love you just like anyone else. I’m not going to say I hope you rot and die just like my brother did, but I personally want the best for you. … I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want you to do.” The young man then turned to the judge and asked, “I don’t know if it is possible, but can I give her a hug, please, please?” The two embraced at length as they cried, whispering words which you can’t understand if you’re watching the video.
This young man’s mom told the news crew afterwards, “What my son did was a true reflection of what we’ve practiced all our lives. That’s what he’s been taught, to forgive.”
I bring up this true story because all of our lessons this morning are on the topic of forgiveness.
Peter opens our Gospel lesson with a question, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21). In other words, “Lord, my brother keeps committing the same sin against me again and again, who many times do I need to forgive him?” Peter says seven, probably thinking he is being pretty generous considering that some of the rabbis taught that one needed to forgive the same sin only three times.
Jesus comes back with an astonishing answer. “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22). Peter has be like, “Seriously?!? That’s a lot.” And yes, it sounds like a lot but here’s the thing, Jesus is not putting an arbitrary number on how many times you forgive. Really what He is saying is that forgiveness has no limits. And to illustrate this Jesus then tells them a parable, an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.
So, let’s look at this parable in our text. A king, like many kings, has a servant and he wants to settle his accounts with this servant. The king calls over the one who owed him ten thousand talents.
Now, let’s pause a moment. We don’t use talents as a measure of money today, so what is a talent, how much is a talent? A talent is the largest monetary measurement of Jesus’ day. It is said that one talent is equal to 6,000 denarii. One denarius was a standard silver Roman coin and is equal to a day’s wages. So, if one denarius is a day’s labor, this servant would need to work 6,000 days or almost sixteen and a half years to pay off one talent. But he owed 10,000 talents! So to pay off ten thousand talents he would have to work 60 million days. That’s slightly over 164,000 years of work.
There is no way this servant can pay this back. So the king ordered for him, his wife, and children to be sold in order to pay off the debt. Falling on his knees, “Be patient with me! I will pay back everything” (18:26). There’s no way! The servant knows that, the king knows that, everyone knows that and yet … the servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go” (18:27). This man and his family were free, they were totally forgiven of a debt they racked up which they could never repay.
But when the man leaves the king, he went to a fellow servant who owes him a hundred denarii, a hundred day’s worth of labor. He grabs him, chokes him, and demands him to pay the money back now! This debt is doable, it’s payable. But instead of listening to his fellow servant begging for some more time, he has him thrown into prison until he could repay the debt.
Here this servant, who had just been forgiven of a debt he could not repay, a debt worth millions of dollars, leaves his master, and physically assaults and throws another man in jail who owed him a few thousand dollars.
The king finds out about what this unmerciful servant has done. The king calls in the man he had forgiven and says, “Seriously?!? You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?” (18:32-33 NLT). The king then sends the man to prison to be tortured till he could pay his entire debt, his entire debt that there is no way he could ever pay back.
Here’s the thing with this parable … forgiveness is more than an act, more than a single act … it’s the world in which you live in. The king, the master, on his own initiative, all on his own without being told what to do reaches out to this servant who owes him this tremendous debt and invites this man to live in a kingdom where your debt is forgiven.
This servant though is still living in this world where you pay what you owe. He knows the value of money and wants what is his. I get that. I’m sure you get that too. That’s the world we live in.
The king finds out about this and he brings the servant back in and is like, “You want to live in a world where you pay what you owe, okay, well here you go! You’re going to be in prison till you can pay back the debt.” So the man is thrown into prison and is tortured, he is getting what he owes.
Forgiveness is more than an act, more than a single act … it’s the world in which you live. Kingdom living, living in God’s kingdom is living in a kingdom of forgiveness. This is what you and I are called to do, this is who you and I are called to be.
That young man whose brother was accidently killed, he is a prime example of this. Imagine how hard it would be to forgive someone who killed your brother. And yet, in front of a courtroom full of people, in front of the all the cameras, this young man shares the grace and the forgiveness of God! Some would say she didn’t deserve it. In a world where you pay what you owe, no, she didn’t deserve his forgiveness. But neither do we.
We do not deserve God’s forgiveness. And yet, God took the initiative and He seeks you out, He pursues after you. God doesn’t have to. He could very easily let you and me get what it is we deserve for our sins. He could very easily let us rot and be tortured in the prison of hell. But He doesn’t. He reaches out to you with His overwhelming forgiveness and cancels the enormous outstanding debt we owe. He knows we can’t pay it back. He knows that we continue to rack up that debt. But remember, forgiveness is more than an act … it’s God’s world. By His grace, God brings you and me into that world, into His world. Through Jesus and His work on the cross and His resurrection victory over sin, death, and Satan … you are not given what is owe to you … you’re forgiven … forgiven of all your sins.
As the young man spoke his and God’s forgiveness to the woman who accidently killed his brother, others in the room were deeply affected. When asked he asked the judge if could give her a hug, the judge wiped tears flowing from her eyes and said yes. I’m sure there were many other eyes flowing with tears as they witnessed God’s love being shared in what may seem like an unusual place. And before the police officer was taken away, the judge gave her Bible to her to read in prison.
O the deep, deep love of Jesus which is so vast, unmeasured, boundless and free, May the overwhelming forgiveness of God shown to each of us, be shown as well to those around us as we live in God’s loving and forgiving kingdom. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.