Sermon Notes for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost 2008
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.  When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents;  and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.  So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’  And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.  But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’  So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’  He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt.  When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.  Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me;  and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’  And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt.  So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:23-35)
When Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to some human situation, like in the parable of the forgiving king, I think it is safe to say that he is contrasting the values of the heavenly Kingdom with how earthly kingdoms normally operate, for the description of the king in this parable is highly unusual.
Right now America is going through a banking and housing crisis caused by lenders agreeing to billions of dollars in loans that the borrowers could not repay. The problem was based in greed, but it has put many people and the world’s economy on the edge of financial disaster. More people were brought into the economy by being given loans which broadened the base population from whom banks could make money ($$$$ cha-ching!). It seemed to benefit all, except too many could not repay their loans then the real value of the banks (their assets) themselves plummeted. Such is the real world of earthly kingdoms. Banks are not charity institutions and cannot simply write off bad loans and still make sizeable profits.
Yet in the parable, this is what the King does. The servant owes him 10,000 talents – some scholars say the talent was worth about one year’s wages. The servant is 10,000 years’ wages in debt! It is a phenomenal debt that he could never repay in his lifetime or a hundred life times. And so the parable starts off mirroring how things would happen in the world – the king wants some kind of payment – a foreclosure on the debt – and he orders the servant and his family be sold into slavery – it won’t come close to repaying the debt, but it’s the best the king can hope to recover – truly less than pennies on the hundred dollars!
Of course the parable raises other serious questions – how could a servant get in such serious debt? Was the king a fool? Or was the servant a liar and embezzler? To get into this kind of debt would be like a worker stealing one hundred million dollars from a government contract but excusing it by calling it a loan.
But judgment day has come – accounts are to be settled and the king demands payment on this incredible loan. The story does not suggest that in heaven all is forgiveness, no questions asked. There is a day of reckoning. To this point the story is much like this world, and perhaps much like many think about the Kingdom of God – a day of judgment and justice.
The servant behaves like most would in this situation and begs patience and mercy from his king. His situation is hopeless, so why not throw himself on the mercy of the king? But the servant is a scoundrel. He tells the king to give him time so that he can repay the debt – 10,000 years worth of income. The man is an unrepentant liar. He can never repay the debt. He has no intention of repaying, but is trying to lie his way out of the mess. He is treating the King like an idiot.
And here is where the story takes the strange turn toward the God’s Kingdom, for the king relents, not just giving the liar a chance to repay, but forgiving him the debt – canceling all of it but certainly not because of anything the servant has done. No Kingdom, like no bank, could survive this kind of behavior. Yet the Kingdom of Heaven is not based in profits and prosperity. It is based in relationships. The only thing to be bartered is love which the King has more of than he has common sense or a business sense.
The Kingdom of Heaven is not about justice and judgment, but about relationships and love and pardoning and canceling debt. The Kingdom of Heaven is a continual Year of Jubilee. The Kingdom of God is not like any earthly Kingdom nor is it based in any human economic system.
And what difference does it make what the Kingdom of Heaven is like? Why was Jesus telling us about heaven when we have to live on earth?
Well, the servant was expected to go back into his world – the world of his fellow servants and to behave like the king, and like he was living in God’s Kingdom. He meets a man who owes him 100 denarii (some say a denarii is equal to one day’s wages). This is not a small sum in the world of servants – 1/3 of a year’s wages. But the servant does not live by the values of the Kingdom, and instead of forgiving and canceling the debt owed him, he demands to live according to the values of this world, and for this he earns the wrath and judgment of the King. He ultimately is judged according to the values by which he lived – he demanded justice from this neighbor, he was rendered justice by God.
And the message for us is that God forgives sins, forgives iniquities (Psalm 103:10), and expects us as the forgiven sinners to forgive the debts of our friends, family, neighbors and even of our enemies. As we pray in the Lord’s prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses/debts, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We are asked to try to live in this world by the values of the Kingdom, not by the demands of society. And the Church is the place where we can practice those values with one another. Here we don’t have to treat others by the values of the world, but by the values of the Kingdom, and we need to value others as they are valued by God.
If we want God to judge us harshly and demand an exact accounting for every little wrong we ever did, then treat others that way. The measure you give will be the measure you get. If you want God to be angry at you for your every fault, then treat others that way. But if you want God to forgive you, and take pity on you and be merciful to you, then treat others that way. Our judgment on judgment day from God will mirror exactly how we treated others. If we want to escape a terrible judgment, then we need to begin to practice the values of the Kingdom of God. Do unto others as you would have God do unto you. Love others as Christ has loved you. The justice and judgment you receive from God will be the justice and judgment you gave to others. Think about that each time you relate to another; however you treat others, so will God treat you in His Kingdom. Your eternity will be the reality you created for others – forgiveness for all eternity, or eternal damnation; you are now creating your eternity by how you treat others.