Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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"Let's Give Up Counting"

Matthew 18: 21-35

Colossians 3: 12-14

          (Read Matthew 18:21-22)

 

      Once upon a time, there was a man who had a dog and a cat which were the joys of his life.

Having to take an extended business trip to Europe, he left his prize pets in the care of his brother. 

About a week into his trip, he called to see how the critters were doing.  “Well, your dog is fine, but your cat is dead.” 

The owner was brokenhearted.  He screamed at his brother: “How could you be so cruel and insensitive?! 

Don’t you know how much I loved that cat?  You could have said, ‘Your cat is up a tree and we can’t get her down.’ 

Then in few days, you could have called and said, ‘Your cat is down from the tree, has broken a bone, and is in the animal hospital.’

Then a couple of days later, when I was better prepared, you could have called and said, ‘I’m

sorry, but your cat has passed away in her sleep.  She felt no pain.’”  “You’re right,” the brother

replied.  “Please forgive me for being so insensitive.”  “Okay,” said the pet owner. “But if it hap-

pens again, we’re done.  I will not forgive.”  The following week, the man called his brother from

Europe again.  “How is my dog?” he asked.  “Your dog is up a tree, and we can’t get him down.”

      How many times have we said, or just as importantly settled in our hearts, “I’ll never forgive

you for what you said or did, or didn’t say or didn’t do.”  Even if we understand background, motivation,

and all mitigating circumstances, we still find it very difficult to extend forgiveness; and that’s the first time around.

To forgive again, and again, and again…..”Do you take me for some kind of fool?  You’ll never get over on me again!” 

Don’t you know there are some people who actually take pride in their toughness?  Some don’t forgive because they

perceive forgiveness as a sign of weakness; a symbol of caving-in or wimping-out.  A great and proud military man by

the name of General James Edward Oglethorpe once said to Methodist preacher John Wesley, “I am a good and generous man. 

But I, sir, never forgive.”  Wesley quipped in reply, “Then I sincerely hope that

you, sir, never sin.” 

      I wonder if Peter was that kind of guy?  Rough cut fisherman; a great and proud man’s man.  I

can’t imagine him as someone who would let himself be twice stung.  So he poses a question to

Jesus:  “Lord, if another member of the church” [and here lies a debated point of translation, as

the original Greek rendering is “…..if a brother”]; so “…if a brother sins against me, how often

should I forgive?  As many as seven times?”  Jesus jolts Peter – jolts all His disciples – when He

replies, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” Then Jesus proceeds to tell a

parable for Peter’s benefit, and later for the benefit of General James Edward Oglethorpe, and

maybe for our benefit this very morning.  It goes like this.

          (Read Matthew 18:23-35)

      At the core of the good news of the Kingdom of God, which Jesus proclaimed and proclaims,

is the assurance of divine forgiveness.  In spite of our sin and debt, our cruelties and insensitivities,

God extends the gift of forgiveness to each and every one who asks from their hearts for God’s pardon. 

And what makes it so awesome -- if not impossible to fathom – is that God forgives as many times as we go

to God with genuinely repentant hearts.  But here’s the rub.  What we receive, we are obliged to give in return.  And as we’ve heard

before that old maxim, that the measure we give is the measure we’ll get. 

The point of the parable is just that.

      Freely, the much indebted servant in the story received the king’s total forgiveness.  Therefore, it would have been

only right that he, too, forgive his fellow servant.  Instead, he throttled the one who was in debt to him for relatively little,

and extended zero forgiveness. In the end, the forgiven and unforgiving debtor received just what he gave, which was stern

judgment from the king.  Being justice-minded folk, we say to ourselves, “Serves him right!  He got just what he had coming to him.” 

Yet here’s where we had better be real careful.  We freely enjoy God’s gift of forgiveness [assuming we choose to ask for and accept it]. 

We proclaim God’s assurance of pardon following our prayers of confession.  We invoke in the Lord’s Prayer:  “Forgive us our debts………” 

In the Apostle’s Creed, we state:  “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”

      But do we ever find ourselves acting out the role of the unforgiving debtor in our lives?  Are

we perhaps carrying deep within us that harsh and unforgiving spirit which says to our sister or

brother – with words or not – “I’ll forgive you the day hell freezes over;” or like the man traveling

in Europe begrudgingly says to his brother who begs his forgiveness, “Okay, but if it happens

again, we’re done?”  If that’s our position or disposition, being just-minded folk, what do we

believe God’s position should be?  Do we realize what we’re asking when we pray, “Forgive us

our debts, as we forgive our debtors?”  If we desire God’s forgiveness, God’s total cancellation of

our sin debt -and who in their right mind would want to face an unforgiving deity in final judgment - we had better be about

forgiving others; once…..twice…..thrice…..even “seventy-seven times.” 

     This is the main lesson which Jesus’ parable lays down.  Yet there is something else in it which

is worth noting, and answers Peter’s question about how much we should forgive; where we

should draw the line.  In the parable, the big debtor’s arrears ran into the millions.  The man he

had thrown into prison owed him a measly hundred silver coins.  Is this not Jesus’ way of reminding us that the debt

others owe us – that of which they need forgiven – is but a drop in the bucket compared to the ocean of our own indebtedness to Almighty God?   

      So who might we know in our lives who we’ve not been able to forgive?  If we say, “Why, no

one,” we are either incredibly blessed, or incredibly fooling ourselves.  Is it the boss or coworker

who did us dog in the shop or office?  Is it the meddling in-law who always has a tendency to put

her or his two cents in when it’s neither wanted or needed, or has otherwise stepped heavily

upon our toes?  Is it a fellow student who treated us like dirt when certain other people were

around?  Is it a once-trusted family member or friend who betrayed us, or turned back on us?  Is

it a fellow church member who talked disparagingly behind our back?  Is it a child who dishonored or disappointed us? 

      Maybe we’ve forgiven them once, or even twice.  But just let them get out of line again. 

Perhaps we’ve recited the words of forgiveness, but in our heart of hearts still carry a deep

grudge which never seems to go away.  Maybe in our pride, our toughness, our pain, our re-

solve to never be twice stung, we assume the position of General Oglethorpe:  “I’m good and

generous.  But I never forgive.”  Then there’s the old adage I’ve heard from countless people: 

“I’ll forgive, but……..”  I have to wonder sometimes if, in God’s eyes, there is any difference?

      At any rate, when it’s all said and done, if we want to be a forgiven people, it is incumbent

upon us to be a forgiving people.  And just as God through Jesus Christ forgives us our sin and

debt over, and over, and over again, we are obliged to do nothing less for those who run up a

considerable tab of sin and debt against us.

      Just before Leonardo DaVinci began work on his infamous painting of the Last Supper, he had

a falling out with a fellow painter.  Leonardo was so enraged and bitter that he decided to paint

the face of his once-friend – now enemy – into the face of Judas Iscariot as revenge, and hand

 

the man down in scorn to succeeding generations.  The face of Judas was one of the first he

completed.  Everyone who saw the work in progress could easily recognize the face as that of

the artist with whom Leonardo had quarreled.  But when it came time to paint the face of Jesus,

he could make no progress.  Something seemed to be baffling him; holding him back; weighing

him down; frustrating his best artistic efforts.  Finally, it came to him one night as he tossed and

turned.  The thing which was hindering him was his unforgiving heart expressed in his painting

his enemy into the face of Judas.  So he painted out the face of his old friend, and along with it,

the grudge in his heart.  He reconciled at once with his colleague, and began anew on the face of

Jesus.  And of course, the ages have heralded his success.  The moral of the story:  You cannot,

at one and the same time, be painting the features of Christ into your own life, and painting another face with

the colors of enmity, grudgery, and unforgiveness.

      How many times shall I forgive someone who does something wrong to me?  Where should I

draw the line?  Even as we ask these questions, we should consider where God draws the line in

forgiving us.  Paul tells us in Romans that for the forgiveness of our sins, “God did not spare

(even) his own Son, but gave him up for us all.”  Is seven times enough?  Jesus answered Peter

and, in effect, all of us: Let’s give up counting.

 

When we consider, Lord, the greatness of our sin, and the vastness of Your forgiveness, how

can we not extend such forgiveness to those who have sinned against us?  Where our hearts

have become hardened and our minds jaded by things people have said to us and about us,

and the things people have done to us, soften us by Your grace, that we might extend genuine

forgiveness; if for no other reason, to release us from bitterness and resentment which thwart

our efforts to paint the features of Christ into our lives.  This we pray in His gracious name.

Amen.

 

 

 

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102