Parable of the lost sheep
10 “Be careful that you don’t look down on one of these little ones. I say to you that their angels in heaven are always looking into the face of my Father who is in heaven. 12 What do you think? If someone had one hundred sheep and one of them wandered off, wouldn’t he leave the ninety-nine on the hillsides and go in search for the one that wandered off?13 If he finds it, I assure you that he is happier about having that one sheep than about the ninety-nine who didn’t wander off. 14 In the same way, my Father who is in heaven doesn’t want to lose one of these little ones.
Sinning brother or sister
15 “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together. If they listen to you, then you’ve won over your brother or sister. 16 But if they won’t listen, take with you one or two others so that every word may be established by the mouth of two or three witnesses. 17 But if they still won’t pay attention, report it to the church. If they won’t pay attention even to the church, treat them as you would a Gentile and tax collector. 18 I assure you that whatever you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. And whatever you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven. 19 Again I assure you that if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, then my Father who is in heaven will do it for you. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.”
Parable of the unforgiving servant
21 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive as many as seven times?”
22 Jesus said, “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy-seven times. 23 Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle accounts, they brought to him a servant who owed him ten thousand bags of gold. 25 Because the servant didn’t have enough to pay it back, the master ordered that he should be sold, along with his wife and children and everything he had, and that the proceeds should be used as payment. 26 But the servant fell down, kneeled before him, and said, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’ 27 The master had compassion on that servant, released him, and forgave the loan.
28 “When that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundred coins. He grabbed him around the throat and said, ‘Pay me back what you owe me.’
29 “Then his fellow servant fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’ 30 But he refused. Instead, he threw him into prison until he paid back his debt.
31 “When his fellow servants saw what happened, they were deeply offended. They came and told their master all that happened. 32 His master called the first servant and said, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you appealed to me. 33 Shouldn’t you also have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 His master was furious and handed him over to the guard responsible for punishing prisoners, until he had paid the whole debt.
35 “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you if you don’t forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Thoughts on the passage:
We have three core values as a congregation that define who we strive to be: centered in Christ, committed to each other, and called to serve the world. We repeat them each week in worship as a reminder and each year we take the time to talk about them in sermons so that they remain a core part of our DNA. The second core value, committed to each other, is perhaps best summed up in the scripture found in Matthew 18. While we omitted the first nine verses it was mostly to help us focus on a smaller portion of a text. The entire chapter is a great summary of the importance of remaining committed to each other as a core value, not just of our congregation, but of the Christian faith.
There are several parts to this sermon that Jesus is giving to the disciples. First, Jesus gives the parable of the lost sheep. He talks about how a good shepherd, when a single sheep is lost, will abandon the rest of the flock to go and find that sheep and make sure that it is returned safely home. The good shepherd does not think any one sheep is more or less important, but values all to such an extent that the shepherd will go and find the lost sheep. For Jesus, this is a great way to think about God, who loves all of us so much that when we are lost, God seeks us out and yearns for our safe return to the flock.
Jesus goes immediately from that to talking about what we are supposed to do when another person sins against us (or the community). We are given the instructions to take three steps. First, we talk to the person ourselves, then we bring back someone else to support us, and finally, if that does not work we are supposed to bring the entire community together in an attempt at restoration. Jesus recognizes however, that even this final drastic step, might not be enough and so he does say, if even that fails, we are to treat the person as a Gentile or a tax collector.
Perhaps seeking to better understand this message, Peter asks Jesus a question, “How many times must I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me?” To answer this question, we get the final teaching from Jesus during this chapter where he gives another parable. This time the story is of a ruler who has a servant who is greatly in debt. When confronted, the servant begs for mercy and the ruler grants it. The servant goes forth and encounters a person who owes him a much smaller debt. Immediately, he demands the money and when the person is unable to pay, has him thrown in jail. When the ruler learns of this treatment, he locks his servant in jail as well, because while he was shown grace by the ruler, the servant was unable to show it to others.
If you think about these passages you see the framework for how we are to be committed to each other. First, we need to anchor ourselves in the love of God. We need to hear the story of the lost sheep and we need to embrace it as our own. Who among us is really without sin? Whether it is the sin of pride (in thinking that we are perfect) or a few choice words that might have been said last Sunday when the Saints took the lead over the Vikings, we all fall short of who God wants us to be. We are all in need of God’s grace and God knows that. God loves us and even when we lose sight of God, God never gives up on us.
This is important, because just as we fail to be perfect for God, we fail to be in perfect community with others. Whether it is an hour, a day, or a week, after the wedding vows are said, both the bride and the groom are going to do something to disappoint the other person. It is often not even deliberate, but it is a reminder that even in what can seem like a perfect moment, even during the honeymoon, a period associated with grace, we fall short. Marriages are not the only places we make mistakes. We have all said or done something to our parents or children that we regret. We have all hurt and offended the people we love the most. I suspect we have also done so to people we care a whole lot less about. In our relationships with each, like with God, we are in need of grace.
Jesus gives a path towards redemption. He outlines how we are supposed to talk to the people who have hurt us and confront the problem. If that does not work, we bring someone else in to help. If it still does not work, we involve the whole community. The last action is to treat the person as a tax collector or Gentile. Here is the thing though, how does Jesus treat tax collectors and sinners? Even if we cannot get someone to repent and make amends and we are to treat them as being outside the community, we still do not get to stop loving them and we still are meant to desire their return.
The final parable reminds us that all of this is rooted in the grace of God. God, the ruler in the parable, has forgiven an almost incomprehensible debt, the labor of many lifetimes. God has shown this grace to all of us, not because we deserved it, but because God loves us. We are charged to do the same to others. We love, because God first loved us. We forgive, because God first forgave us. We are committed to each other because God is committed to us. God’s love for us never fails, never gives up, and never runs out on us. Our love for each other must also never fail, give up, or run out.
Matthew 18 is often talked about as the Rule of Christ. It is a reminder that we will have differences and disagreements, but the solution must always be based in love and redemption. The Rule of Christ teaches us that we are meant to be committed to each other, and that commitment is not a passing thing, we do not just forgive once, or twice, or seven times, but instead seven times seventy. Over and over we are supposed to work to make amends with each other because over and over God makes amends with us.
If we are committed to each other, then we need to do the hard work that is needed to be in relationship. Going after the lost sheep takes work. Talking with people about our differences takes work. Being committed to each other does not just mean celebrating the highs with each other when someone shares a joy. It also does not mean just being there to share in grief when someone else is dealing with challenges. It means doing the work to love and forgive each other when we cause each other pain. It is one of our core values because it is hard, and if we do make it central to who we are, we will be ignoring what Christ is asking of us. How many times should I forgive someone in the church, seven times seventy, because that and more is how much God has forgiven us. Thanks be to God.
Questions to Ponder:
What does being committed to each other mean to you?
When is a time that you have struggled to forgive someone who caused you harm?
When is a time that someone has extended grace to you when you did not deserve it?
How can our acts towards each other reflect Christ’s love for us?
God, loving and caring for each other is hard. Just as we often ignore and turn away from you, we often cause harm to our fellow brother and sisters. Help us to remember this and to offer grace to those who wrong us. Help us also to admit our mistakes and ask forgiveness when we sin against you and when we sin against others. Help us always to remember that your grace and love for us knows no bounds and never fails. Amen