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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Saturday, September 12, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  | Matthew 18:21–35

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (NRSV)

As I read today’s parable once again, the trickiness and distracting details of Jesus’ stories came back to me. How do I avoid reading these verses literally or allegorically? How do I keep my singular focus on the punch line of the parable?

It appears Jesus told this narrative in response to Peter’s straightforward question, “How many times do I need to forgive someone?” With a specific number, Peter could chart the requirements of discipleship. Jesus is no help. Seventy-seven times (or seventy times seven) he responds.

Then follows the parable with all the questions it stirs up. As the details started to draw me in distracting directions, I was reminded of the wise words of theologian Joseph Sittler: “Do not therefore read the parables as slick little stories of the ordinary; read them rather as they turn the ordinary upside down.”

Our current ordinary social circumstances are dominated by the blame game. It seems that forgiveness has disappeared. Even in the face of appeals for forgiveness, federal executions have been resumed. How might the radical claims of the gospel reach us and transform our lives and our world?

Yes, the mercy of our God is from everlasting to everlasting. And God seeks to turn our lives upside down, turning blame into unlimited forgiveness on our part as well. As we repeat in our worship each Sunday, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” I find that gracious lifelong challenge in my face this day. May I, may we, discover fresh ways of demonstrating forgiveness at the leading of our ever-forgiving Holy One.

Merciful God, I pray that you will lead me beyond any calculations of discipleship. Turn my life, turn our ordinary world upside down. May your grace empower me to live out fresh ways of forgiveness each and every day through Jesus, our brother and our Savior. Amen.

Written by Jeffrey Doane, Parish Associate for Older Adults

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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