The Unforgiven and Forgiven Servants
A Sermon by Andrew Mertz, …
Episcopal Church at Yale
September 13, 2020
I want you to take some time and think of two moments where someone has wronged you. Firstly, I want you to think of a time where you either confronted the person who wronged you or harbored a grudge long afterward. It shouldn’t be difficult, as that moment is etched in your mind. Now, I want you to think of when a loved one wronged you, and you instantly forgave them. This should be a little harder, as your brain has let go of that memory. Contrast the two moments.
I speak to you today as a sinner to sinners,
As the beloved of God to God’s beloved,
As one called to bear witness, to those called to bear witness. Amen.
I’ll be frank, as I usually am during these. When I read the first two verses of today’s Gospel, I felt a weight come off my shoulders. Peter asks Jesus how many times he needs to forgive until he is fully authorized to unleash his wrath on those who wrong him. Jesus replies as Jesus does, “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Jesus’s dad-like response repeats a lesson that we’ve heard, albeit in different forms, from our very first experiences with Christianity. Turn the other cheek, forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
I was in the middle of a busy week last week, as is the case at the beginning of the semester, and the middle, and the end I guess, but reading those first two verses after days of procrastination caused me to think that writing this homily would be straightforward. I could rehash what I’ve been taught for my whole life. Simple.
But Jesus continues, into the parable of the forgiven, yet unforgiving servant. A servant who owes an unthinkable amount of money, and at the threat of being tied up and sold with his family, begs and pleads for mercy at the feet of his master. The servant is released, and his debt cancelled, by mere pity. And upon his release,
he assaults one of his own debtors, who owes him significantly less. This demonstration of hypocrisy is not unnoticed by the master, who proceeds to torture him.
The message isn’t exactly difficult to understand. If Jesus stopped after his first sentence, however, the overall gravity of the sermon is lost. This story is important, as it addresses a simple topic with complex ramifications.
Forgiveness is one of the most difficult concepts to grasp and practice in today’s Christianity, where people’s mindsets are driven by transactional and selfish logic and reason. How can the proper response to being sinned against simply be to let it go? You’ve been wronged, and you deserve a form of atonement. Think back to the two times you came up with at the beginning of today’s service. What was the contrast that you came up with? Was it that you harbored anger toward the person with whom you were less familiar? Were you more understanding of your loved one, who may have just made an honest mistake? And within that lies the key. What’s the only message that we hear more than the difficult idea of forgiveness? I’ll give you a hint, it’s a lot more intuitive. Few
dispute it, although in practice it’s hard to do. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s easier to let go of hate and anger for a loved one. And ideally, we’re surrounded by our loved ones. And that’s difficult. No one here is perfect, and Jesus is the only one who successfully incorporates and implements that mentality.. But when attempting to
replicate that impossible example, the other key is recognizing the chief receiver of our sins.
I’m a numbers guy, and to me, the full weight of this reading hit me while researching the currency exchange of the debts owed. The hypocritical servant owed his master today’s equivalent of four billion dollars, while the second servant owed the first servant a mere four thousand. While these values are exaggerated for the sake of the parable, the numbers in themselves hold a key concept: the sins we commit to each other pale in comparison to the sins we commit to God. It’s relatively easy for us not to commit sins against each other. Very rarely do we
wrong someone, and even rarer it is intentional. Although we may not always be the best friend, brother, sister, husband, wife, or companion we can be, we also rarely actively harm or hurt an individual, and fully realize the consequences of our direct actions.
However, we commit sin against God every single day. Whether it be glorifying earthly figures, straying away from God’s teachings, participating in systems that work to suppress and uphold the status quo, or showing indifference to those who are asking for help. God knows. God sees our actions, purposeful or not, and we
have done nothing to deserve God’s forgiveness.