Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Bethany Bullet-February 17, 2009

Lord’s Prayer the fifth petition:
“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
This petition begins with an admission of need and therefore of guilt. We are in need of forgiveness and we do not merit that for which we ask. While we live in an era of blame and detoured responsibility there is no denying the ultimate truth – each of us has failed to live as perfectly as God demands.

Jesus of course knew humanities need for mercy, grace and forgiveness; it is in fact why he came into the world. After he taught this pray he told a parable, it is recorded in Matt. 18. This parable’s about being forgiven and forgiving; it is known as, The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. This so called servant was called to account by his master, he owed an incredible sum, and he could have paid a 1000k a day and worked for the next 40 years and still would not have covered his bill. He fell at the feet of the master, this servant, and cried, “Have pity on me and I will pay you every cent I owe.” The king felt sorry and let him go free and told the official that he did not have to pay back what he owed.

It is interesting to note that that is not what the servant had requested. The servant didn’t ask for forgiveness but dispensation. He sought a grace period not grace, period – end of story. The master offered even more than requested, he did not offer more time he erased every dime. The debt was cancelled, the bill torn in two and the servant was declared free and clear.

Now the parable continues, and as Jesus tells it he presupposes a few things, the first is that we who are in need of forgiveness and guilty of trespass have ourselves been trespassed against. In fact, Jesus tells the parable in the first place because Peter asked about the amount one ought to forgive.

Peter has in mind specifics. This isn’t just philosophical banter, theological inquiry, this isn’t an exploration of religious obligation this is personal. Peter, I’m sure, knew the rabbinical tradition that stipulated the wounded forgive three times. Peter was willing to double that and throw one in for good measure. Seven times, will that cover it? Jesus says, no not seven times but seventy times seven. If you’re counting fingers and toes, you’re missing the point! Mercy that is marshaled out isn’t mercy! Formulated forgiveness isn’t forgiveness at all.

True, forgiveness is not a grace period but grace period. Yet, a grace period, the exact thing “Servant A” requested of the master is the very thing requested of him by a fellow servant. The forgiven servant, whose debt of millions was cancelled, goes out and has a fellow servant who owes him pennies on the thousands. If you are a first-timer to the parable you might think this forgiven servant who himself is now in a position to forgive might bump into his fellow indebted servant, throw a hand on the shoulder and expound upon the blessings of being forgiven, serve himself as a living commentary on pure grace and in turn forgive the debt owed him. That isn’t exactly how the story goes down. He seeks out his fellow servant, grabs him by the scruff of the neck and demands payment.

We too have been wronged, even as the parable and petition both proclaim our status as trespasser they both correctly define us as those trespassed against too. The real question is not how did the servant in the parable respond to the mercy he had received but how are we going to respond?

There is a reason forgiveness is hard for us: it is a divine absurdity. What an incredible thing it is to ask forgiveness, what an incredible thing it is to offer forgiveness. In Jesus’ story the forgiven yet unmerciful servant demanded his pound of flesh. In the story of Jesus we find that the master, God himself, demands His pound of flesh as well. Yet, in his Son, Jesus, God provides the flesh He demands. So Jesus, “who being in very nature God consider equality with God something not to be grasped, but taking the very nature of a . . . servant and humbles himself to death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2)

Yes, forgiveness is a divine absurdity. That He might grant it, he pays the price we owe Him. The only thing that makes forgiveness possible between us and our God is that the pound of flesh has been provided for our trespasses in Jesus. The only thing that makes forgiveness possible between us is that the pound of flesh for those who trespass against us has also been provided in Christ. When we pray forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us we are not praying that we might be forgiven in the measure we forgive! (Note: The word “as” is not causative in the text!) We are praying however that we might be forgiving having personally experienced the power of undeserved forgiveness, grace period that our God offers us.

*Perhaps a few things to consider that can be instructive for us:

  • First, in the parable the chance to forgive came when an admission was made, “I know I owe” and a confession was given, “be merciful and have patience with me.”
  • Second, this does not mean that there are no consequences to sin, nor does it mean that we can sweep aside the laws of the state nor the safety of others, forgiving is not condoning and remission of sin is not permission of sin;
  • However, as we pray this petition we admit our need and ask for forgiveness and we seek a desire to be forgiving when asked ourselves to offer such; realizing that we have been given more than we could ever ask – more than a grace period – but in Christ grace period. Amen.


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