APC 10th Feb 2021 “Stories Jesus told…The Unforgiving Servant”
Welcome and Introduction
Good morning everyone and welcome to our Midweek worship. Today we continue looking at some of the greatest stories Jesus ever told. If I was to put my own title on today’s story it would be the question, “Facebible or forgiveness?” But before I let you into the secret of what that even means, let’s take a moment to talk to God, let’s pray…
Gracious God, we thank you that you are always with us, in the bad times as well as the good, the difficult as well as the easy, the sad as well as the happy.
Lord of all hopefulness, hear our prayer.
We thank you that though we have sometimes been unsure of the way ahead, you have always been there to guide us, though we have felt discouraged, you have offered us fresh inspiration, though we have been in despair, you have given us hope.
Lord of all hopefulness, hear our prayer.
We thank you for the assurance this brings us- that your steadfast love never ceases, that your mercies are new every morning, that great is your faithfulness.
Lord of all hopefulness, hear our prayer.
May that conviction give us confidence in the days ahead, so that whatever problems we face, whatever disappointments we experience, whatever sorrows may befall us, we will still find reason to look forward, reason to believe in the future and reason to hope.
Lord of all hopefulness, hear our prayer.
In Jesus name we ask it, Amen.
Let us join together in the words of the Lord’s Prayer…
Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name,
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day, our daily bread, And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us,
And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil,
For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory,
For ever and ever, AMEN.
The Unforgiving Servant
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of ‘Facebible’. It’s a concept created by Rev James Wetzstein in one of his weekly Cartoons ‘Agnus Day’. Rev James is a student pastor in the Lutheran Valparaiso University in Indiana, near Chicago.
In the cartoon, the irrepressibly religious Agnus turns to her friend and says, “Being on Facebible makes following Jesus really easy.”
The friend looks confused and replies, “I can’t imagine”.
Agnus explains- “Every time someone does something wrong to me I click on this ‘forgive’ button next to their profile picture. If I click on it more than 77 times for anyone, Facebible automatically removes them from my friends list. I don’t even have to think about it.”
Agnus’ exasperated friend looks at her phone and says, “Lord have mercy!”
Pastor James says that his cartoon was inspired by the parable of the unforgiving servant.
He says he finds the term ‘Facebible’ amusing because the word bible means ‘book’ and it reflects the irony that many of us spend more time evaluating our lives through social media than Holy Scripture.
He also finds the concept of ‘Facebible’ intriguing because all of us are tempted to unfriend people on social media.
You know it’s good to laugh at the idea of having an App to weed through our friends list and automatically unfriend them after so many forgiveness ‘clicks’. But behind such a concept is the sad reality that there are times when all of us get deeply hurt even by the people closest to us.
This happens even within the family of the church. There are times in life when we will all experience feelings of deep anger and bitterness that do not dissolve easily, because we are human. Not only can these things threaten our relationships with other people but they may even cause us to ‘unfriend’ God from the pages of our lives.
So where can we turn, when we have been hurt by someone? How can we find a way through our anger and bitterness to a place where we are once again free to enjoy the life that God has given us?
The answer lies within the pages of a story that inspired Facebible, a story Jesus told in answer to a question from his friend Peter. Let’s listen to it now in Matthew Chapter 18 v 21-35
Reading Matthew 18: 21-35 ‘The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant’
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.[a]
23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[b] was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[c] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Here Matthew records an occasion when the disciples had been asking Jesus about what they should do if someone else wronged them. It seems that Peter was obviously taking these discussions very seriously but he still wasn’t sure how Jesus’ teaching related to what his Jewish upbringing had taught him about the whole concept of forgiveness.
You see, Jewish Rabbis taught that a person must forgive someone else three times. For example Rabbi Jose ben Jehuda writes, “If a man commits an offence once they forgive him; if he commits an offence a second time they forgive him; if he commits an offence a third time, they forgive him; the fourth time they do not forgive.”
The Rabbis arrived at this theological position because of their understanding of the book of Amos. In this book the prophet issues a series of condemnations on the nations of Israel and Judah. It appears that after the fourth condemnation God visited the people with Divine punishment. The Rabbis argued that people were not to be more gracious than God, so human forgiveness should be limited to 3 occasions.
As a Jew, Peter would probably have been aware of this teaching. He had also spent time listening to Jesus and was aware of how patient and merciful he was. He would have been aware that Jesus’ teaching, while fulfilling all that the Jewish law advised, differed in its interpretation from the traditional views of the Pharisees and Jewish religious leaders. So, mulling all this over in his mind, Peter comes to Jesus and asks, “How many times should I forgive someone when they sin against me? Should I forgive them seven times?”
In actual fact, in making this statement, Peter is trying to be very generous. In essence, he is saying, “Should I forgive twice as many times as the scribes suggest plus one extra time for good measure?”
He’s probably expecting Jesus to turn round and say, “Yes Peter, I think seven times would be a generous amount.”
The answer Jesus gives him would have stopped him in his tracks and challenged him to think in a whole new way. For Jesus turns to him and says, “No Peter, seven times isn’t enough, you should forgive them seventy seven times.”
Now the chances of someone offending Peter seventy seven times was almost none. The chances of anyone upsetting us seventy seven times is almost none. So in essence, what Jesus is saying here is, “Peter, no matter how many times someone offends you; you must be willing to forgive them. You must be willing to let go.”
Our immediate reaction to this is, “Hold on a minute! That’s going a bit too far! It’s a bit unrealistic and hugely unfair to expect me to forgive someone no matter how many times they offend me! What possible justification can you have for such a view?”
Jesus knows this would be Peter’s automatic reaction too, so he tells him a story to try and explain how he can arrive at such a decision. It’s the story of the unforgiving servant.
A servant owed a King, Ten Thousand talents. A talent is about 300 Euros. So this man owed the King 3 million Euros. To put it in perspective, the entire revenue of the province containing Idumea, Judea and Samaria was only 600 talents. So this man’s debt was 20 times that of the entire budget for this whole region.
The debt this servant owed was greater than a King’s ransom. There wasn’t a snowball’s chance in Hades that this man was ever going to be able to pay the debt he owed. The King’s initial response is to suggest that the man and his family be sold to work for someone else in order to try and recoup some of the debt. Such a response would have been considered to be reasonable and just, at that time in the Ancient Near East.
Knowing he is powerless to change his situation or to pay his debt, the servant falls to his knees and pleads with the King to have mercy. “Please give me some more time and I will pay back everything,” he cries. Amazingly, the King responds in sheer compassion, not just by extending the loan period but by actually cancelling the debt completely.
It reminds me of the true story of the Seahorse man. A young Irish Biologist and entrepreneur who spent 6 years trying to breed seahorses in captivity at a commercial level in an attempt to save the worldwide population from future extinction. After winning numerous awards and receiving many grants he eventually ended up hundreds of thousands of pounds in debt.
Facing complete liquidation and the shattering of his dreams he received a miraculous letter in the post. In the letter the bank stated that they had cancelled all his debt but that in the future event that his business became successful he may wish to reimburse them for the money which they had previously invested. Today this same biologist runs Seahorse Aquariums at Dublin’s Red Cow and as a sideline he continues to try to breed seahorses to a commercial level in captivity.
You know, we’re no different from the seahorse man or the first servant in Jesus’ story. We all owe God a huge debt, a debt that none of us can ever pay. We have all sinned against God in so many ways, even in the fact that we so often live without any reference to Him, without thanking Him for all that He has given us.
There is nothing we can do to change the fact that we are sinners. There is nothing we can do to make up for the wrong we have done against God. There is nothing we can do to make ourselves acceptable to Him. We are all guilty, and the only thing we deserve is to be justly judged by God and to be forbidden from being with Him. If God was to treat us only with justice that’s what our fate would be.
But the amazing truth is that God hasn’t treated us only with justice. He has treated us with grace and mercy. It has cost Him hugely to pay our debt, to forgive our sins so that we could be His friends and be acceptable in His sight. In fact God in Christ has paid our debt Himself. When Jesus died on the cross, God the Son took the judgement that we deserved so that we wouldn’t have to experience that judgement. That way God could be true to His justice by not allowing human wrongdoing to go unpunished. That way God could also allow us to go free even though we are the ones who have wronged Him.
There is nothing more important in the Christian life than for us to realise the truth about ourselves and to appreciate what God has done for us in Christ. We need to accept that we are sinners. We need to accept how deeply we have grieved God. We need to accept that nothing we do can change the reality of our sin or somehow make us acceptable to the Father. Only then will we really appreciate what God has done for us in Christ by giving Himself to be the atoning sacrifice for our sin.
Just like us, the servant in Jesus’ story was given a second chance to fulfil his dreams and enjoy life with his wife and family. I’m sure he couldn’t believe it! I’m sure he had to pinch himself to make sure he wasn’t dreaming! I’m sure he shouted from the rooftops and told everyone he knew about his good fortune. You’d think he would be generous to others in return. Sadly that’s not how the story goes.
When he leaves the King’s court he discovers that one of his own servants owes him one hundred Denarii. A Denarii is worth about 5 cents. So this second servant’s total debt was about 7 Euros. Remember the original servant’s debt was 3 million Euros and that was completely waved by the King. Surely he would be happy now to cancel a debt of just a few Euros. Not so! Unbelievably, he orders that his servant be thrown into prison until he can pay the debt.
Stupidly this man has forgotten that news travels fast. His other servants heard what had happened and ran and told the King. When the King heard he was furious. He called for the man whose debt he had cancelled to be brought before him. “You wicked man!” He shouted. “I cancelled your huge debt because you begged me! But look at how you treated your own servant who only owed you a fraction of the amount you owed me! I’m handing you over to be punished until you’ve paid me back all that you owe me!”
The servant who owed a tiny amount is a picture of the people who sin against us. The truth is, that while the hurts we have experienced at times can run very deep, what we have to forgive other people cannot compare to what God has forgiven us in Christ. Compared to what we owe God, what other people owe us is almost insignificant.
For us to continue in bitterness and frozen attitudes towards those who have wronged us, is for us to act like the servant who was forgiven an unpayable debt by the King. It is to forget what we have been forgiven, it is to ignore what God has done for us in Christ.
Have you been hurt very deeply by someone? Has something happened in your life for which you blame others or even God?
Then let me encourage you to look at the cross. Don’t just glance at it. Take time to meditate on it and think long and hard. Take a mirror with you and gaze honestly at your own life, your own words and thoughts and actions. Ask God to help you to really grasp how much you have been forgiven. Ask God to help you to understand how deep and high and wide is his love for you in Christ. Then pray that God by His Spirit might give you the grace and courage to do what He has done and forgive those who don’t deserve it.
At the end of his story Jesus turns to Peter and utters these chilling words, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
The reality is that there are some things that hurt so deeply only God can enable us to forgive. But if we claim to know Him it is a challenge that He sets us. For as Jesus puts it, if we cannot bring ourselves in time to forgive, it shows that we haven’t fully accepted what He has done for us. So the question remains, “Facebible or forgiveness?” If we want to call ourselves Christians there’s only one choice…. Let’s pray…
Heavenly Father, we pray for people who have been deeply hurt by others. Lord we know that forgiveness can be difficult but that it can set us free from the bitterness and unhappiness. Father, help us all to let go of our hurts and leave the final outcomes of injustice to you.
We think especially of the McCullough family following George’s death last week. Draw near to them and to all who mourn and bring your comfort.
We pray for all our young people and ask that you will continue to give them the emotional and physical strength to sustain them as they work online and as they try to find things to make life interesting during this lockdown.
We pray for all teachers and ask that you will give them wisdom and inspiration in their preparation and energy and strength to continue to deliver their online classes and pastoral support.
We remember all those working in hospitals and residential care facilities. Keep them safe as they seek to care for others. Give them physical and emotional strength to keep on keeping on.
Lord, grant that the vaccine program will continue to be rolled out successfully and that as more people become immunised that the spread of Covid will continue to decrease rapidly.
Lord, in your mercy, will you bring the spread of this virus to an end and allow us to return to what we would consider to be normal living?
Give wisdom to our political leaders in every decision that they have to make. Give them perseverance and enable them to maintain their unity.
Lord, help us never again to take anything for granted and to be thankful for the many blessings and privileges that we enjoy.
May we never forget the people worst affected by Covid and for whom life will still continue to be a great struggle even when the threat of this virus has come to an end.
Lord, may we continue to strive so that everyone may have equal opportunity to receive a good education, nutritious food and fresh water, good healthcare and a life of freedom and peace. May all people be given the opportunity to hear the good news about Jesus. Lord, in whatever way we are able, help us to do what we can to make these things a reality for all people.
Take a moment now to remember a few people or circumstances to pray for…
We offer all these prayers in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
It’s been a joy and privilege to share with you again today. Thanks again for logging on. I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s reflection. Please do spend some time in quiet over the next couple of days reflecting on the parable of the unforgiving servant. I do hope you can join us again at the weekend as we will try and answer the question, “What would Jesus do on a Sunday?”
To close, let me lead you in a Benediction after which I invite you as always, to say the grace together…
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
And May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all now and for evermore, Amen.”
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