Lent 1 (NL1) John B. Valentine
Matthew 18:21-35 February 26, 2023
“A FLURRY OF FORGIVENESS”
Were any of the rest of you taken aback by the weather forecasts this week?
If I’m not mistaken ... this week’s weather forecasts had to be among the weirdest on record ... were they not?
I mean ... I’ve lived ... off and on ... in the Bay Area since 1971 ... due in no small part to Mister Birthday Boy siting back there ... and I don’t think I have EVER seen ‘Snow’ in the forecast.
Oh sure ...
We’ll occasionally get those weather reports that say things like “A light scattering of snow may be possible on local peaks” ...
But we NEVER get weather reports that say “Snow at areas above eight hundred feet is likely” .... right???
I know that there have been days when we’ve been surprised by snow around here ...
• like that time the North Bay Hills got hits back in 1976 ...
• or that time I built a snowman in our front yard back in 2008 ...
But can any of you ever remember a time when snow was actually PREDICTED around here??
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But what really fascinated me this week was not the weather itself ... but the variety of REACTIONS we had to the prediction that our community might be blanketed in snow.
• Some of you ... some of US ... some folks from around here ... said ‘No big deal ... we’ve seen snow around here before ... but it never really amounted to much of anything.’
• Some of us said ‘I’m not driving anywhere this week and I’m not going out of the house ... because I don’t want to get caught out-of-the-house in a snowstorm.’
• And some of us just rolled our eyes and said things like ‘Yeah, right! What do those forecasters know anyway? It NEVER snows around here ... those idiots!’
You see ...
• Some of us were in the ‘mildly-cautious’ camp ... and
• Some of us were in the ‘hyper-attentive’ camp ... and
• Some of us were in the ‘downright-dismissive’ camp ...
Were we not??
And ... at least to this point ... it would seem that the ‘mildly cautious’ folks were the ones who made the right choice ...
Because some of us have seen some flurries for little bits of time ... but nothing than approaches an actual ‘snowstorm’.
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Now ... don’t get me wrong ... this sermon is NOT really about the weather news ... after all ... the only ‘news’ I’m called to proclaim among you is the Good News of Jesus Christ ...
But it seems to me ... this week’s weather news ... and our varied reactions to it ... reveals a little something about how we deal with ‘noteworthy’ ... ‘newsworthy’ stuff more generally.
When alerted to something the is radically ‘out of the ordinary’ ...
• Sometimes ... some of us ... are ‘mildly-cautious’ ...
• Sometimes ... some of us ... are ‘hyperly-attentive’ ... and
• Sometime ... some of us ... are ‘downright-dismissive’.
Our reactions to all sorts of news announcements fall into a variety of camps.
But what about our reactions to this story Jesus tells that we read as this morning’s Gospel lesson?
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You see ... this morning’s Gospel lesson is a parable ... a story that Jesus tells ... that constitutes a significant bit of ‘forecasting’ from no less an authority that the Creator of Heaven and Earth ....
News about the future of our world ...
News about the nature of forgiveness ... and
News about who we are called to be.
“Once upon a time” ... Jesus says ... “There was this mega-multi-gazillionaire fellow of the Elon Musk / Jeff Bezos variety who decided it was time to audit his books.
And somehow ... during the audit ... he discovers that one of his mid-level managers has run up a line of credit to the tune of some four hundred billion dollars.
Well ... needless to say ... the Boss is none too happy ...
So he calls in the manager in and tells him that it is time to pay off what he owes.
But ... obviously ... the fellow can't pay up ...
And so the Boss orders that the man ... and his wife ... and his children ... be sold at the slave market ... so as to make a tiny dent in that debt which he owes.
But the manager falls on his knees ... and pleads for a bit of time to pay off the debt ... as if he could ever repay such a sum.
But ... to the astonishment of everyone without earshot ... the Boss's heart seems touched.
And instead of giving the man a bit more time to pay ... he forgives the debt entirely! Wipes it off the books! The Boss simply takes the loss and sets the fellow free.
(Nice story, huh? But it's about to take an unexpected turn.)
You see ... this same mid-level management fellow goes out ... the very same day that he's been forgiven a four-hundred-billion-dollar debt ... and finds a man who owes him forty bucks.
And he grabs the man by the throat and shouts: "Pay me what you owe!"
But the man doesn't have the money and falls down on his knees ... and makes the exact same plea that the mid-level manager made to his Boss earlier in the day.
But his plea falls on deaf ears ... and Mister I-Owe-You-Forty-Bucks is ordered thrown into prison until such time as he and/or his family ... can scratch together the bail.
But there were witnesses to this who come back to the Boss and tell him what they've seen.
And the Boss calls that one-time mid-level manager before him and says:
"You worthless jerk! I forgave you the whole amount you owed me ... more than you could have paid back in a thousand life times. Yet you could not extend that mercy to the one fellow whose debt to you amounted to your servant whose debt was but one one-billionth of what you owe me.
“You should be out buying ‘Drinks on the House’ for anyone and everyone in earshot on account of the amazingly gracious thing which I have done for you ... but instead you’re obsessing about forty bucks and what someone rightly owes you."
And thus ... enraged by what has happened ... the Boss hands Mister Four-Hundred-Billion over to the authorities ... until ... get this ... "he can repay what he owed." (Which is a euphemistic way of saying ‘Never.')
Then ... the story having concluded ... Jesus turns to his disciples and warns them: "If you are unmerciful and unforgiving like that servant, the very same thing will happen to you."
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You know ... unlike some of the parables which Jesus tells ... the meaning of this one seems fairly straight-forward ... does it not?
That it has to do with one of the key values in the Kingdom which Jesus is ushering in ....
That thing we call FORGIVENESS!
• It’s about someone who has been forgiven a BIG thing forgiving ... or NOT forgiving ... a small thing in turn.
• It’s about recognizing that those who have been forgiven something HUGE look like total idiots when they don’t forgive something insignificant by comparison.
• It’s got something to do with those familiar words toward the end of the Lord's Prayer that we pray whenever we say: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."
The character identification is the story seems pretty obvious:
• God is the Boss ...
• We are the mid-level managers ... and
• Mister-Forty-Bucks is anyone and everyone who is somehow indebted to us ...
And the moral of the story seems to be along the lines of ...
“If we can’t wrap our heads around the fact that a life marked by forgiveness is what a life lived is God’s Kingdom looks like ... then maybe we didn’t and don’t deserve that gift of God’s forgiveness in the first place.”
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But it seems to me that there’s another message that’s buried in this story ... a ‘forecast’ maybe about the future of all that is.
A declaration that the days are surely coming ... in fact the days are already here ... when this Kingdom-value we call ‘forgiveness’ is going to BE the news of the day.
• Some of us are going to be ‘mildly-attentive’ to it ... and
• Some of us are going to be ‘hyper-attentive' to it .... and
• Some of us are going to be ‘downright-dismissive' of it.
And the question that this parable really asks has to do with HOW we will react to this blizzard of blessings that is coming our way.
You see ... in every parable ... there’s something in it with some ‘shock value’ ...
• In the parable of the Good Samaritan ... the shock value has to do with the fact that a despised Samaritan would be so generous to a Jew ...
• In the parable of the Wheat and the Tares that we looked at a couple of weeks ago ... the shock value had to do with the farmer saying “let the weeds grow” ...
• In the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard ... the shock value has do to with everyone getting paid a full day’s wage.
And lots of people seem to think that the shock value in this story has to do with the tight-wad middle manager not being able to muster up any forgiveness.
But the real shock in this story is NOT that the middle-manager couldn’t find it in him to forgive Mister Forty-Bucks ...
BUT THAT THE BOSS FORGAVE THE MIDDLE MANAGER IN THE FIRST PLACE!
THAT is truly an absurd proposition!
I mean ...
We could imagine that someone would forgive a forty-dollar debt ....
We could imagine that someone might forgive a four-thousand-dollar debt ... under the right circumstances
We might possibly even imagine someone forgiving a four-hundred thousand dollar debt ... if it was to their kids ...
But no one ... NO ONE ... could imagine ANYONE forgiving a debt that totaled close to half-a-trillion dollars ... right??? (I mean ... not even the Federal government forgives ‘half-a-trillion dollars!)
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My friends ... let this be the news that shocks you!
This debt that we could never ever hope to pay has been cancelled! It’s been FORGIVEN!
A flurry ... a blizzard ... of forgiveness is on its way.
And the only question we have to deal with is this:
• Are we going to be ‘mildly-attentive’ to that forecast???.
• Or ‘hyper-attentive' to that forecast???
• Or ‘downright-dismissive' of that forecast???
The choice is yours.