Today’s Gospel reading directly follows last week’s Gospel in which Jesus taught the disciples how to handle disputes and conflict within the Christian community. The story has two scenes: first, inside the throne room of a powerful king; second, just outside in a palace corridor. The story tells of two worlds: the world as we know it, and the world as God wants it. The throne room changes in a moment from the world as we know it to the world as God wants it. That palace corridor, however, starts out as the world we know but fails to become the world as God wants it.
The throne room, starts out as the world we know. It’s a world of calculation and control. The king is reviewing accounts, and a servant, owes him big time. The servant gets called but that’s only a formality. No way can this servant pay back what he owes. Financially, he’s dead.
Everybody there in the throne room thinks his appearance is a mere formality. Everybody, that is, except him. Upon hearing the sentence imposed on him he drops to his knees crying out for mercy. He makes promises he knows he can never keep. This is a world of calculation and control.
Well, in the story Jesus tells, something unexpected happens. Against the advice of his accountants he forgives the servant his astronomical debt.
There we are, my friends. If the cross of Christ and the Christian life mean anything, this is what they mean: By forgiving us the sins we cannot make up on our own, God dies to the world of power and control.
This is a part of Christianity that is scandalous, shocking, and hopeful. It’s good news, for anyone who even suspects that God is the Great Bully in the Sky. God is dead to that sort of world, the world of calculation and control and so are we.
What happens next to the servant in the story? His learning curve is, well, pathetic. He runs into somebody who owes him something. There in the palace corridor, he grabs the fellow by the collar and tries—unsuccessfully—to shake the money out of him. Welcome back to the world of calculation and control.
This second debtor pleads for mercy. You’d think it would be a no-brainer for the forgiven debtor to remember that as of a few moments ago, he was dead to the world of calculation and control and that he should act accordingly in dealing with his debtor out there in the corridor. You’d think that mercy received would result in mercy given.
But that doesn’t happen. He acts out the world of calculation and control. He refuses to show mercy, he fails to help his debtor die to a world of oppression. Instead, he’s ready to send him into the nearest prison. The palace corridor remains in the world of calculation and control.
Here we get to the heart of why forgiveness is hard. We conveniently forget—or maybe we’ve never acknowledged—that we are forgiven sinners, debtors who have been let off the hook. We don’t admit that the king has dropped dead to the world of power and control so that we might have another chance, and another, and another. We don’t realize that if faith means anything, it means we’re free from this world of control and calculation, and all it claims, thanks to a king who dies for us.
Christianity states that forgiveness is necessary. It is not an option, but an imperative. Christianity also makes it clear that forgiveness is hard. It is costly. The one who forgives dies to the world as we know it to usher in the world as God wants it.
His death brings with it a challenge to the one forgiven. By accepting and passing on forgiveness, such a person bears witness to the scandalous truth that, yes, everybody is a sinner, and everybody is forgiven by a mercy that is God-sized.
It’s easy to forget to forgive. That is why we gather Sunday by Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist. Here we present time after time, through prayerful word and action, how the king died on a cross, our debt has been paid in full. Not because we deserved it, but because God decided the possibility of a relationship is more important than allowing sin to prevent it. How we respond is up to us. God’s desire is that we use our forgiveness as a beginning point for a new and healthy relationship with God and with one another.
My chains are gone
I’ve been set free
My God, my Saviour has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy rains
Unending love, Amazing grace