September 17th Sermon: 77 times? More. (Paul Strike)

Matthew 18:21-35

 

In the Gospel passages of the past number of weeks,

Peter has been a pretty prominent figure, to say the least.

He has walked on water,

And then he promptly sank into it.

He has called Jesus the Messiah, the Son of the living God,

Which was, Jesus says, a revelation from God.

Because of his faith, Peter becomes a rock on which the church will be built.

And then, he has been rebuked by Jesus for telling Jesus he will not suffer and die.

Jesus rebukes Peter pretty famously for that one, saying:

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block!”

Today’s passage places Peter in the spotlight once more,

In a way that makes him perhaps as relatable to us

As he has been so far.

 

How is he more relatable?

His question to Jesus is certainly a valid one.

“Lord, if another member of the church sins against me,

how often should I forgive?

As many as seven times???”

He thinks he is being generous for forgiving someone seven times.

One can hear it in the question:

As many as seven times???

It is as if there is a small hope in Peter

That Jesus will say,

Oh, no way, not THAT many times, Peter.

Maybe three, four tops.

After all, seven is a high number of times

To forgive someone, right?

That’s a lot of pain to go through,

A lot of brokenness,

Involved with forgiving someone seven times.

That might seem very relatable to you,

To say, “Err…as much as seven times?”

With a wince and a hope that the number gets reduced.

That can be a Peter that I get, at least.

Hem…haw… seven times?

 

However, what might be most relatable in Peter

Is how he limits his ability to forgive.

He seems afraid that there is a finite amount

Of forgiveness in him.

He only has seven forgiveness passes.

When they’re gone, they’re gone.

“Sorry, Pastor Tim,

I am very upset that you stretched your Sabbatical out just enough

So that I had to preach on the story of

Jesus and the Canaanite women,

And I am fresh out of forgiveness passes for you.

Get ready for eternal tension between us.”

 

This aspect of Peter’s question is so relatable,

Because, like him,

We can too quickly feel like we are insufficient

Like we just don’t have enough to give.

With the full lives we tend to lead here around New Haven,

There are many things we can lack.

How about a lack of energy?

You might catch yourself saying: I’m too tuckered out!

How about a lack of patience?

You might catch yourself saying: I am at my wit’s end!

How about a lack of compassion or love?

You might catch yourself saying: I have only so much to give!

I only have 24 hours in a day!

I only have so much patience!

I only have so much love to offer you!

Like Peter, I can only forgive seven times!

 

The parable that Jesus tells flies in the face of Peter’s premise,

And shows how a life that assumes such limits twists people.

We have heard one important number, so far: the number 7.

The two numbers in the parable are also important.

They are monetary amounts: 10,000 talents and 100 denarii.

The first servant in the parable owes the king 10,000 talents.

This is a huge amount of money.

One talent—one talent!—is worth 15-20 years of a day laborer’s wages.

That means the full amount of 10,000 talents at

A cool 10 million dollars… back then.

This is supposed to sound crazy.

Just think about the inflation!

Suffice to say, servant number one has a ridiculous debt

That the king forgives

Out of his pity and mercy.

He simply waves it off.

If you think this is supposed to sound amazing,

You’d be right.

The second servant, on the other hand,

Has a 100-denarii debt

To the first servant.

This amount?

About 20 Washingtons, 20 smackeroos.

So, when the first servant

Chokes and sends the second servant to debtor’s prison,

It is absolutely comical

How little compassion and mercy the first servant has.

This first servant has received an unimaginable amount of mercy.

But, he is owed something,

And, gosh darn it,

He is going to get that something that he is owed!

He has kept a tally.

Forget about forgiving someone seven times:

This servant has no forgiveness to give.

 

There is one more number to consider in the story.

Peter says, must I forgive 7 times?

Jesus counters this with an impossible number: 77.

Pastor Tim likes to say that

Whenever you see “40 days” in the Bible,

It stands for a really long time.

Here, 77 times stands for “too many times to count.”

I have not yet met someone who has counted

Moments of forgiveness up to 77.

You may as well throw away the idea of

The tally sheet.

And that’s the point.

There is no three-strike policy,

No strictures,

To the forgiveness Jesus calls us to.

Peter’s way of thinking here is wrong.

He believes we live with insufficient levels of forgiveness:

I can forgive this many times, but no more.

Jesus says, NO!

There is not a finite number of forgiveness passes in the kingdom of heaven.

 

The number 77 here, rather, stands for a different kind of number:

Infinity.

Infinity is not technically a number,

But it represents the idea that numbers go on and on and on and on…

For Jesus’ purposes, infinity represents the

Incredible depth of forgiveness to which we are called.

We ought to be oceans of forgiveness,

Mariana Trenches of forgiveness,

Which are deeper than we can comprehend.

But, there is a depth even greater than these ocean deeps:

God’s limitless being,

Whose forgiveness swallows us up

And redeems us in the waters of baptism.

It is by God’s forgiveness first, by God’s mercy on us first,

That we are able to transition from tricking streams of forgiveness

To oceans, the limits of which have not even been explored.

We exist off of the infinite abundance of God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness!

 

Where does our help come from?

Help comes from the Lord,

Maker of heaven and earth.

Whose abundance is overflowing among us,

Especially when we are in the difficult business of forgiveness.

Seven times? Or seventy-seven times?

More.

Amen.

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