“My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35)
Words have power. They do not have the power of magic. They can’t mystically change our life for the better or worse. But, the meanings of words can change our lives. We see this any time we talk to someone and they say something that makes us happy or sad. We can do it to someone else as we give a word of encouragement or criticism. Words have power because they mean something. When we forget what a word means its power in our lives becomes less. Words like love, hate, hope, happiness all mean something profound. Yet, there is a word in the Christian life that God has intended to work in mighty ways in our lives that we struggle with. It is a word with a deeply profound truth. This truth turns the world upside down. It changes the standard by which we live. It challenges what we think is real. The word is grace.
Grace. Seems innocuous enough, doesn’t it? It has just five letters. You wouldn’t think that a five letter word could do all of the things you just read. ‘Grace’ isn’t even a sentence. It is just a word. If we think that, we have no idea what we are talking about. Perhaps the life we live has blunted its meaning. Perhaps what we feel has made us stop believing in the power of grace. The grace-filled life is something that is only a distant dream. It has become only the hope of children and not the reality of us adults. Nobody in our world uses grace for anything other than church speak. Nobody.
Have you ever asked a question that revealed something about you? Peter asks such a question. He asks Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”(Matthew 18:21) Seven times seems like a good amount. In fact since Peter is probably not considering small slights and incidents we could say he was asking ‘how often do I have to forgive my brother when he deeply wounds me?’ I wonder if Peter thought that his answer sounded spiritual. It sounds spiritual to me. If I was in his place I might have specified that my brother was sinning in the same area over and over again. I might have emphasized the hurt that the brother caused. Then, I would have been sure that my answer of seven times would be sufficient. Finally, I would think that I had proven that I understood Jesus’ message of forgiveness and grace. I, like Peter, would have been wrong.
The extent of grace is appalling. I use the word appalling on purpose. Think for a moment about Jesus’ reply. He says, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (22) We are familiar with this passage. However, I think that we might miss the full meaning when we read it without the accompanying parable. Jesus did not just end the teaching with seventy times seven. He continues with a parable about a king who wished to settle his accounts. In other words, the king wanted to collect the debt he was owed. In Jesus’ parable a man owed the king 10,000 talents. What is a talent? Jesus doesn’t tell us whether the talent is gold or silver, but it would have been a lot of money. In today’s market a golden talent is worth over a million dollars. So, in today’s market the man owed the king 10,000,000,000. That’s ten billion dollars! An study Bible I have called a talent fifteen year’s wages. I’ll let you do that math. What does the king do? When the man begs to be given more time, the king cancels the debt. (23-27) What kind of king would forgive such a debt? Is that not an appalling type of forgiveness? Wouldn’t that type of forgiveness cause a scandal? Shouldn’t the king at least be worried about his reputation among the other servants? I can hear the people whispering in the background.
Forgiving someone when they have deeply wounded you is difficult. Forgiveness is hard. Anger is easy. Peter and the disciples may be like us. They may accept that God would be so forgiving. It is the second half of the parable that puts grace firmly into our hands as well. Jesus goes on to say that the servant of the king had another servant who owed him one hundred denarii. A denarius is about a day’s wage. The second servant begged the first to give him more time. Does this sound familiar? The first servant refuses to give more time or forgive as he was forgiven. Guess who hears about it? Yes, the king hears about the exchange and in anger throws the first servant into prison until he can pay the ten thousand talents back. Jesus’ final words on the subject are, “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” (28-35) The gospel of Luke records the disciples response to Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness. They say, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:4) They struggled like we do with how deep God’s grace really is. They also struggled with how we humans are supposed to live in the light of such grace.
So, how about you and me? If living in grace is tied to forgiveness, does a face come to your mind? Is there someone you have held back from forgiving? Have you waited to forgive for this or that reason? Are you saying with the disciples, “Increase my faith!” I am with you. But, I want to live in grace. I want my life to be like Jesus. That means forgiveness. Who will we forgive today?
Something to think about,