Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

by Crossings

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant
Matthew 18:21-35
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
analysis by Ed Schroeder

Here’s A Crossings matrix for the Revised Common Lectionary’s Gospel for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost (Sept. 15).
Peace & Joy! Ed Schroeder

Matthew 18:21-35: The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

Introduction: Peter’s question = Our question: Aren’t there limits to forgiveness? Wouldn’t seven times in a row be enough, before you responded to that congenital sinning sibling with some hard knocks of the recompense and retribution? Can you really practice “management by mercy” in daily life and survive?

DIAGNOSIS – Giving Up on Forgiveness

Level One: The Symptoms
Getting tired of being forgiving over and over again. Giving up on forgiveness in daily life relationships with brothers & sisters. Instead, going back to living by the law with these siblings and invoking the fair alternative to forgiveness: “Pay what you owe me.”

Level Two: The Interior Sickness
the deeper infection: A heart-problem – “Not forgiving brother/sister from the heart.” Peter’s question exposes Peter’s heart. He distrusts forgiveness as a way of life and actually trusts that living by “Pay what you owe me” is a better way to live than forgiveness.

Level Three: The Final Prognosis of this diagnosis, i.e., where such sickness winds up
Distrusting forgiveness leaves sinners with only one option in their relationship to God. It invites God too to say: “Pay what you owe me.” When God “settles accounts” with us by law, we are completely lost. God relates to us in terms of what we trust in our hearts. When we live with brothers & sisters according to “Pay what you owe me,” God does the same with us, and says to us: “Pay what you owe me. Pay ALL that you owe me,” to wit, our forfeited lives Thus we are “delivered to the jailers.” When God closes our account according to law, we lose everything. The word from the market-place for that is “bankrupt” = big, big debts and not enough resources to pay. To be “bankrupt with God” is the Bible’s definition for death. (See Psalm 90.)

– God’s Continuing Effort at Management by Mercy (MbM) and at Getting Us to Trust It.

Christ Involved in the Mortality of our Sickness
 In Christ God Rescues us from our deadly debt. He has “pity”on us, he “forgives” us. Jesus–in his person and work–is the story of God acting out the parable for sinners . “Out of pity for him (& for us too) the Lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.” Forgiveness means that the creditor (who should be paid) “loses” the assets involved in the debt that the debtor ought to pay. (God “lost” his dearest Son instead of sinners “losing” their own bankrupt lives.) The crucified Christ takes ownership of our bankrupt account with God. He exchanges his riches for our debt. Such debt-elimination for us entails his total assets-sacrifice, to wit, the cross. A strange way to reconcile our accounts with God, yet what a “froehlicher Wechsel” (Luther), what a “sweet swap” (Bertram)! Sinners are “debt-free,” now with all of Jesus’ riches for living the next two levels as well. See what follows.

Curing the Deeper Infection
 Trusting “from the heart” God’s program of pity and forgiveness. “Faith” is nothing more than trusting God’s Forgiveness. Christ himself is God’s Word of forgiveness to us. So then that means trusting Christ’s word & action of forgiveness toward us, trusting that this is LIFE itself, and thus the way to live our entire life – at all 3 levels: with God, with ourselves, with other people.

Life with New Symptoms – Living our Daily Life by Forgiveness.
 Living out in the world by trusting Christ’s “forgiveness-with-no-limits.” So we can also live by forgiveness-with-no-limits in relationship with all siblings (=Christians). Also with those not-yet siblings, but who might just become such siblings by virtue of our MbM with them. When our “old” heart asks, “How many times?” The new heart says: “No Limit.”

The “old” creation, of course, operates on “Pay what you owe,” namely, the law of fairness and reciprocity. (If there is any forgiveness practiced in such fairness, it is always “limited” to what would be a “fair” amount.) Question: will we get into trouble in the “old” world when we live by forgiveness? Undoubtedly. But forgiveness is now the way God “lives” with us. It is the “lifestyle” of the Living God. “Pay what you owe” is the “lifestyle” of Death. So forgiveness really is the only way “to live.”


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