Parables: Where’s Grace? Let us pray silently…
Sin and forgiveness are never hypothetical. Let’s say .. or Let’s pretend .. don’t adequately further any understanding of either of these. Working definitions aren’t necessarily any more helpful.
Holiday meals seldom have lines like: if you do _____ you know I would need to do____
Or we have always said ______
These attempts to make right and wrong, good and bad clear often get messed up around the second helping.
Stories cut through this haze and suggest some ideas for both terms.
Let’s start with the king reviewing accounts. We can easily imagine that. It won’t be long until lunch and the groceries need being paid for. The accounts are checked for any possible income.
Genesis describes a scene after Jacob is buried and no longer mortally in the picture. Guilt springs up from the loss and the memories Joseph’s brothers have of their past. In their own terms they recognize that Joseph could ‘bear a grudge’ because it really was ‘ a terrible thing that they had done to him’. Perhaps a lie will help at this stage.. ‘before your father died…’they tell him. They even use the word or idea please twice in their guilt-filled scene.
Peter, a sophisticated Palestinian growing up in a Roman world, tries to determine the cost and the frequency of forgiveness.
Where did we lose grace in these stories and texts?
The presence of sin in others is most clear. In the mirror of our own lives not so much. Guilt, in proper measures reminds us like Joseph’s brothers in hindsight that some things we do are terrible. Measured, of course, by our lack of interest in having those things done to us.
The servant, who it appears to me squandered with bad budgeting 20 years of income, knows how to kneel and beg for his own needs but is absolutely clueless about the situation a colleague of his is in with 20 weeks of indebtedness. The numbers alone in these accounts 7, 7x70 or 77 or the amounts of money owed by two servants do not naturally fit into our logic.
Forgiveness is something we want, need or ask for in difficult or even desperate situations. Something for us, not something for someone else. We can’t even always see the wrong we have done, thought or said. But the sins of others are most obvious. So much so that forgiveness is completely unreasonable.
There are lots of tears in the closing chapter of Genesis but were their pot luck dinners, folk just dropping in for a cup of tea, anyone ringing the other on the phone (aka face-timing, texting, instagramming) after the forgiveness was secured? Somebody be serious, I just forgave them. I don’t want to be with them, they may do it again.
Sin, guilt and forgiveness are not real easy to talk about or to live, are they?
So let’s look at what these stories tell us:
God took what you did and made good out of it. These are Joseph’s words but first he makes clear with his question, “Am I God?” He knows he is not. Grace reminds us who we are and whose we are. Divine we are not, divine we long to be near. God can take any situation and totally change it. That is grace. 20 years of debt or twenty weeks of someone else’s debt can be wiped out.
That’s the next key – compassion. Grace places compassion in the face of the offender. In the Matthew text the offender does fall on his knees and beg. But I believe the compassion of God is the key, especially when the forgiven one goes out and condemns his fellow servant.
God’s compassion lives in the neighborhood. When the one is forgiven and the second is sitting in jail, his buddies go to the master and tell the story. The newly released one is apparently all on his own celebrating and unaware of the possibilities from his behavior.
When we see God at work it inspires us to behave like God. Indeed it helps us see ourselves as others see us. God’s compassion lifts us out of our self-centered world and reminds us that we live with others. Others who prefer certain kinds of treatment and not other types. They are in fact like us except their sin is now known. Known and once forgiven – released. They are free.
I may wonder for quite a while if the first indebted one ends up in the next bunk in jail with the poor soul who owed him so little. I wonder if over the weeks of their indebtedness did they talk. If the second one had been forgiven neither of them would have been in jail. There’s grace in that, which we need to chew on for a while. Amen.
Holy God, we trust you for those filled with fear… quiet their hearts.
Gracious God, we pray for the sick and the suffering.. let them see you are with them.
Loving God, make that love a sign of your grace and compassion in us, in Christ we pray, amen.