After finishing the summer sermon series, we return to the Lectionary as a guide for preaching texts. In particular, our focus this Sunday will be on Matthew 18:21-35. By this time Jesus has been about his earthly ministry for some time. After the birth narrative provided in the Gospel of Matthew, other important events occur, such as the ministry of John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism and temptation, the calling of the disciples and numerous accounts of Jesus’ teaching, healing and wonder-working. Prior to our reading for Sunday, Peter has acknowledged that Jesus is the Messiah and Peter, James and John have gone up on a high mountain to witness Jesus’ transfiguration. A lot has happened. Jesus has been working hard to set the stage for coming attractions. Day by day he has been teaching his disciples, preparing them for his own departure, preparing them for the day when the church will be born.
It is in this context that Peter asks a question. It’s a question about life together, life in community. The question is: “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” It’s interesting to note that Peter provides his own answer to the question. It seems generous, doesn’t it? Seven times. Perhaps Peter has something else on his mind, like the number seven is the number of completeness, and therefore perfection. But if Peter thinks he has just gone above and beyond the call of duty, he is in for a big surprise.
For Jesus, this simply isn’t good enough. For Jesus, who is always raising the bar above our meager expectations, forgiveness should be wrapped in a different package. How about seventy-seven times? While the number can be translated as 77 times or 70 times 7, the end result is the same. Jesus is calling for radical forgiveness. Jesus is requiring a forgiveness that is so complete, there is no keeping score. Then to get his point across, Jesus tells a story, a parable, as he so often does.
Take some time to read and ponder Matthew 18:21-35. What are your thoughts? What two or three things come to mind as you consider forgiveness in light of Jesus’ teaching? When have you been shown radical mercy? When have you shown radical forgiveness to another?
Along these lines, here’s something else to consider. What happens to us, in this lifetime, in our own bodies, when we refuse to show mercy to others? It seems to me that having a spirit of un-forgiveness takes its toll. What are your thoughts?
Jesus wants us (his brothers and sisters) to be people who show radical love for one another and radical mercy to one another. It was certainly his way of walking upon the earth.
I look forward to seeing you in worship this Sunday.