TRINITY XXII – Si iniquitates
Introit: (Ps 130) If thou, O Lord, wilt be extreme to mark iniquities, O Lord, who may abide it? But there is forgiveness with thee, O God of Israel. Ps. Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord: Lord hear my voice.
Collect: Lord, we beseech thee to keep thy household the Church in continual godliness: that through thy protection it may be free from all adversities, and devoutly given to serve thee in good works, to the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(For the Octave) O Almighty God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord: Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys, which thou hast prepared for them that unfeignedly love thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
OT Lesson: Thus saith the Lord; For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they have despised the law of the Lord, and have not kept his commandments, and their lies caused them to err, after the which their fathers have walked: but I will send a fire upon Judah, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem. Thus saith the Lord; For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes; that pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek: and a man and his father will go in unto the same maid, to profane my holy name: and on garments seized as pledges they lay themselves down beside every altar, and they drink the wine of the condemned in the house of their god. Yet destroyed I the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars, and he was strong as the oaks; yet I destroyed his fruit from above, and his roots from beneath. Also I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and led you forty years through the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorite. And I raised up of your sons for prophets, and of your young men for Nazarites. Is it not even thus, O ye children of Israel? saith the Lord. (Amos 2.4-11)
Gradual: (Ps 133) Behold, how good and joyful a thing it is, brethren, to dwell together in unity. V. It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down unto the beard, even unto Aaron’s beard.
Epistle: Brethren: I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, for your fellowship in the Gospel from the first day until now; being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart: inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace. For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ. And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgement; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1.3-11)
Alleluia. Ye that fear the Lord, put your trust in the Lord: he is their helper and defender. Alleluia.
The Holy Gospel: At that time: Peter said unto Jesus, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven. Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow-servants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellow-servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not; but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow-servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses. (St Matthew 18.21-35)
“Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”These are the types of questions that, as Christians, we often wrestle with. Jesus teaches of the forgiveness of God freely given to all, and we know we ought to forgive others as well, but shouldn’t there be a limit? “When do I get to cut my brother off?” How much is too much? So Peter becomes the spokesman for us all when he asks, “Lord, when do we have the right to stop forgiving?”
Now Peter often puts his foot in his mouth in the Gospels, but we must give him credit here. He is actually being quite generous. Jewish law required one to forgive a person three times. This was based on how the rabbis read the prophet Amos: “For three transgressions of Judah/Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment.” If three times was enough for God, then that ought to establish the principle; so, forgive the person three times, and then BAM! But Peter had been listening to Jesus preach for some time now, and at least some of that teaching had begun to resonate in his mind. Perhaps three wasn’t enough, so he more than doubles it. How about seven? Seven is the Divine number, the number of Sabbath, the number of days of creation, the number of perfection or completion. That must be the “magic number.” Surely God couldn’t ask us to forgive our brother more than seven times?
But Jesus answered, “I say not unto you until seven times, but until seventy times seven.”NowOur Lord is not actually saying that we can shut the door on a person after 490 times. This number is meant to signify that there is no limit, no cut-off point. We should continue to forgive as many times as it takes, until we have lost count, or, more to the point, without keeping tally in the first place. Then to illustrate this point, He tells a parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be likened unto a certain king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.”A talent was an ancient measure of weight, approximately 75-100 pounds, and when used in monetary terms meant that weight in silver or gold. This poor wretch had somehow managed to accumulate a debt of 10,000 talents – which, if it is even meant to be a finite number, would be around four billion dollars! But the Greek word is literally “myriad.” One highly respected and scholarly Greek dictionary suggests that the best English equivalent here would be “a zillion.” This man owed a myriad of talents – so like a gazillion dollars, an incalculable debt – and now it was time to pay up.
In first-century Palestine, the average labourer earned just one denarius (“penny”) per day. A talent was 6000 denarii, so nearly twenty years’ wages. And this man owed … how many? Of course he didn’t have the money, so “his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’” How much patience did the man hope his master would have? If he saved every penny he earned, he could pay off his debt in 200,000 years! Well actually, the man wasn’t unique. He was just one of many debtors. He was, in fact, an ordinary sinner like you or me. Remember, it only takes one sin to earn eternal death and condemnation. And what about a lifetime of sinful thoughts, words, and deeds? How much do you owe? A zillion talents. This is your debt, for you are this man, and so is every other person who has ever lived. We are all debtors who live only by the grace of God. The servant fell on his knees, imploring, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And what did the Lord do? He did what He does for every person who cries out to Him for mercy: Out of tender compassion and mercy, the Lord forgave the entire debt. This is the absolution which we receive. God doesn’t put us on a payment plan or garnish our wages. He simply forgives…the whole debt…a bajillion credits…forgiven!
But now we come to the warning in this parable. This man, who had just been forgiven this astronomical debt, on his way home happened upon a fellow servant who owed him 100 denarii (approximately $7000 by today’s wage standards). He seized the man by the throat, and demanded, “Pay me what you owe!” And when his fellow servant pleaded, using the same words the man had just spoken to his lord, “Have patience with me, and I will repay you,” he refused, and threw him into prison until the debt should be paid. Jesus says, in another place, that those who are forgiven much love much. How then could this man, who had been forgiven so much, refuse to forgive his brother for a relatively small offence? “Give me time, and I will repay my debt!” he had pleaded with his lord. Instead, the king forgave him. But this man would not believe that anyone could be so generous and forgiving. Although he had been forgiven all, he lived as though he had not been forgiven at all. Even as he went out from his lord, he was planning how he would repay the debt by his own efforts. And because he would not receive forgiveness, he could not offer forgiveness. As David Curry puts it: “Forgiveness is the quality of divine mercy bestowed upon us so as to be active in us. It is not something static, but a dynamic quality that is to be alive in us–our forgiving one another even as we have been forgiven, our acting out of the love that has been shown to us. That is the point of this parable, the parable of the “Unforgiving Servant” who fails to act out of the love which has been given to him, and so imprisons himself.”
“And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” Now to forgive from one’s heart does not mean what we think it means. In the Scriptures, the heart is not the seat of the emotions or feelings. That is a relatively modern conceit. The seat of the feelings in the Scriptures is the gut—the “bowels” (Latin viscera), as in the Epistle reading. This is where we get the term ‘gut-wrenching.’ So when Jesus ‘has compassion on’ people, the word that is used (σπλαγχνίζομαι [splangchnízomai], to be moved in the inward parts) tells us that He feels it viscerally in His gut. The heart, on the other hand, is the seat of the will. So, when our Lord instructs us to forgive from our heart, it means that we are to forgive willingly, and with determination. We cannot control our feelings. They are gut-reactions. But we can control what we do with our feelings. When forgiveness has been given from our heart, from our will, we continue to live in that forgiveness, and this means that, despite the fact that we still remember the wrong, we choose—we will—not to let it define how we continue to interact with that person; we choose not to throw what has been done back in his face in the future. We choose to make our actions conform to God’s Word of forgiveness instead of making our actions slaves to our feelings. As Curry says: “The forgiveness of sins goes beyond the limits of hurts given and received, not by ignoring them, but by going through them to something more. We are bidden to receive the grace of forgiveness and to show that we have received it by our acting upon it.” That is what reconciliation is. But when we refuse to forgive our brother from our heart, we are giving in to our fallen and sinful gut-instinct, which fails to believe God’s Word about sin and grace. And if we insist that God’s grace does not cover another’s sin, then we must likewise conclude that it does not cover any of ours either.
In the Collect we pray God to keep the Church—His household—in continual godliness, that through His protection we might be “free from all adversities, and devoutly given to serve thee in good works, to the glory of thy Name.” The Church exists for the glory of God and its supreme purpose is to serve Him devoutly. We do not ask God’s protection for the Church simply so that it will survive. St Paul writes to the Philippians with confidence that “he who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ,” urging them to make their conduct worthy of the Gospel of Christ, setting aside pride and rivalry and following the humility of Christ, who “took the form of a servant and became obedient even unto death,” all the while praying, “Father, forgive them.” In that same spirit, we must be forgiving and forbearing of one another. Paul then prays that we may be “filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God.”
In the Lord’s Prayer we ask Our Father to forgive us our debts even as we forgive our debtors. Now this is not a transaction. We do not earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving others. Rather, we forgive others because God has already forgiven us so much more. Forgiveness is divine love working in and through us. We who have been forgiven much, are now free to love much. When we take a good look at the depth of our own sinful condition, knowing what we deserve, and how much God has forgiven us, how could we possibly hold anything against a brother? Because we have experienced forgiveness, we too can forgive from the heart. We will not cut him off after the seventh offence, because God has promised that He will never cut us off even after seventy times seven; He will always hear our cries for mercy. Our incalculable debt was paid at the cross. The eternal sentence has been taken away. Instead of what we deserve, our heavenly Father forgives every sin and gives us eternal life. As He has forgiven our great debt, so we can sincerely forgive those who sin against us—willingly, and without calculation. And this is a defining mark of our Christian Faith.
“He that cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass if he would ever reach heaven; for everyone has need to be forgiven.” – George Herbert
Collect: O God our Father, who makest thy sun to rise upon the evil and upon the good, and sendest rain upon the just and upon the unjust: Help us to love our enemies, and to forgive those who trespass against us; that we may receive of thee the forgiveness of our sins, and be made thy children in spirit and in truth, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
And may the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord: and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen.