Sep 11, 2011(Thirteenth Sunday
after Pentecost) Matthew 18:21~35(Rev. Hyunchoul Shin)
Today is a special day. While today is the Thanksgiving day in Korea, it is also the 10th anniversary of 9/11 terror attacks. As you probably all know, 9/11 incident happened when each of the four planes crashed into WTC and the Pentagon. At least 2800 up to 3500 people from 90 different countries died in the traumatic event… So, in retaliation for this incident, President Bush committed ground forces to Afghanistan and the war in Iraq took place in 2003. In spite of Osama Bin Laden’s death, the face of the United States, 10 years after the 9/11, does not look so bright. Rather, the U.S. is now suffering from fear of terrorism that could happen again at anytime. Today, we have read a verse from Matthew 18:21. ‘Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive me brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”’ Peter is asking to what extent he should forgive others. For the past week, I could not help but struggle while meditating on the Word. 5 This is because forgiveness is not as easy as we speak of. When I think of the pain suffered by the innocent victims of this incident, I keep thinking it’s not time yet for me to tell you so easily to forgive others.
When I was in New York, I was able to hear about the 9/11 event from the people who had been directly involved in this incident. One of them had been in the WTC at the time the terrorist attack occurred, and just before the building collapsed, he managed to get out by using the stairs. 7 He has ever since been suffering from anxiety and fear. Also, one of the people I knew was living in an apartment across from the WTC. She noticed that her children were acting strange after the 9/11 event, and found out that they had to get psychiatric treatment. This was because, at the time of the 9/11 incident, the children saw people falling from the building likes leaves from a tree.
Some of you might say that this is nothing compared to the pain and suffering of the people who died at the time and their families. However, even so, I could not easily tell my friends to forgive and to understand. This was because I do not know the pain myself… What I tell them might wound them again… Also, I was not sure what I would have done if I was in the same situation as they were. Nonetheless, I hope that we can learn about forgiveness through today’s Word, and that we realize why we need to forgive others. I hope that a time comes when the pain of the past that is yet un-forgiven can be healed and recovered.
‘Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?"’ – Matthew 18:21 Why does Peter ask this question? Previously, Jesus tells him about the parable of the lost sheep. (Matthew 18:10-14) “If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? … In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” Right after this, Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you… if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector”
This is very strange. Jesus says that we need to leave 99 sheep to look for the one that wandered off. Then, Jesus says that we need to treat this sheep that doesn’t listen as we would a pagan or a tax collector. This is why Peter asks, “How many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” At this time, the Jews kept to their religious practices of quantifying accountability. So the rabbis strictly taught others to forgive the criminals up to three times and no more. However, Peter who knew about the strict rule of forgiveness went beyond this and said seven times, because he though that this would be more than enough for one to forgive others. But, in response to Peter’s questions, Jesus says, “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” I was also confused by this because what Jesus is saying to Peter seems contradicting. We need to look for this sheep that doesn’t listen and wanders off even if means we need to leave 99 others. But then, we need to treat the sheep as we would a pagan or a tax collector. But then, we need to forgive this sheep not just seven times but ‘seven seventies’ times. Is this possible?
To explain this “contradiction”, we need to realize that Jesus’ three sayings have different interests. The Word that we need to find the lost lamb is telling us that we cannot value life by quantifying and evaluating in numbers. Therefore, by saying there are many or little lives spared, we cannot realize the true value of lives. Making three exhortations has the purpose to change people. However, if the person does not accept the exhortations, you don’t have to try, with human efforts, to make them changed anymore if they listen to you. It is because the reaction against the exhortations could lead to worse outcome. 18 Therefore, we should counsel others, only to the extent that we are able to “win [our] brother over.’’ Even a good advice can considered annoying and thus, becomes difficult for others to act on if it is spoken too many times. On the other hand, we should forgive other not just seven times but seven seventies (7 x 70) times… there is no limit to forgiveness. This is because the origin of forgiveness is based on the everlasting love of God. Therefore, we are able to forgive others “not seven times, but ‘seven seventies’ times” Also, Luke 17:4 says, “If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him.” If we think using numbers, “seven times seventy” simply means, through multiplication, 490, and therefore means to forgive 490 times. But let us think this through. To forgive 490 times, there must be 490 sins committed. Also, if we consider Luke’s state, then it must mean that there must be someone who commits a sin at least seven times. So who is the one who must receive my forgiveness 490 times, who does me wrong seven times a day? It could simply be someone who is very close. In other words, this does not mean that we must forgive someone who has committed horrendous sins; it could rather mean to continuously forgive someone near us who has many faults and bump into us the most.
When I was young, the most frequently said words that my parents told me whenever I got in trouble were “I’ll forgive you this once… but don’t let it happen again.” But that “once” was never ending. I get the thought that while my parents were raising me, they had forgiven me at least 490 times… In another words, the phrase “to forgive seven times seventy times” is not impossible. Rather there are no other words that are truer than these. Even at home we constantly forgive each other. If we could not constantly forgive and understand, how would a husband and a wife live together? How would a child and a parent? We are actually forgiving and understanding each other not 490 times, but much more than that. But what is important here is to know how this forgiveness is possible. The fact that this infinite forgiveness is possible is within the scope where the love cannot be undermined. In another words, the influential strength within the limits of love is how it can be possible. The parable in verse 23 states “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.” Where would such forgiveness exist? Where all forgiveness is realized, But if that act of forgiveness does not occur, what is the reason? It is because the power of ‘love’s logic’ is unable to influence us in that decision. Thus, in this parable, we see the master’s ten thousand talents… Here the ten thousand talents is six thousand times the servant’s one day pay of one Denarii. Furthermore, at the time, the tax that was collected at the end of the year in the whole Judea was eight hundred talents. 28 Thus, ten thousand talents is an amount beyond anyone’s imagination. However, the master still cancelled his debt. The servant then, approaches someone who owes him a hundred Denarii and “grabbed him and began to choke him” (18:28) and “had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt” (18:30). Is this not an ungrateful and unmerciful servant? However, if we think about this logically, just because his debts were cancelled doesn’t mean he needs to cancel the other person’s debt. This although sounds ethical, there is no law against it, as the two debts are unrelated. However, in the Kingdom of Heaven, it is the power of love that rules. Thus, the grace we received in God’s forgiveness must also be received by others. In Heaven, it is only the logic of love that is present and in situations like this, the love and the mercy we received must be paid forward. We cannot possibly count the number of times parents forgive their children and vice versa. Why? Because, the only logic that’s present in this relationship, is that of love. Similarly, if we are unable to forgive, that is because there is no ‘love’s logic.’ Why did God give us a family? For us to experience the power of love, the energy of love and the power of mercy. The only place we can practice an infinite amount of mercy and grace is within our families and if we fail here, we are unable to practice them anywhere else. Beloved church members, I hope that grace and mercy never end in our families. I hope that there will be infinite forgiveness and that we will learn God’s love while we practice it for ourselves.
I also thought that line 22 where it says, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” to mean that we should never stop forgiving someone. In other words, no matter how much we were hurt, and even though we failed the previous 489 times when we tried to forgive the person, we need to try again for the 490th time. Sometimes the depth of a wound may be so deep that we can’t possibly forgive the person. In those instances, we feel anger and hatred more than the desire to forgive. However, even in those times, we must not give up. Why? Because our cuts can’t be compared to the ten thousand talents that were cancelled for us. Because the grace that God has shown us is incomparable to the grace we show in forgiving the person. And as Christians, we need to think about things in God’s perspective.
Lancaster, Pennsylvania is comprised of a group of Amish people. Because they insist that people who were baptized as children, be re-baptized when they become adults, they were once thought of as a Heresy. In order to live by the bible, they have turned away from using electricity or cars and lead a very simplistic lifestyle. 38 However, in 2006, a man named Charles, who became mad at God for taking away his daughter, went into a school and shot 10 girls after lining them up. He then committed suicide himself. This event brought shock among the Amish people, in its cruelty and in its usage of a gun.
The thing that surprised everyone about this horrific occurrence was that the parents of the victims went to Charles’s house to comfort his widow and three children. Then they told her that they forgave him. A few days later, they all attended Charles’s funeral and grieved together. They even created a fund to help support the remaining family. Later we found out that, when Charles had entered the classroom and had lined the girls up, the oldest one told him to shoot her first. She had hoped that the other would be able to escape or be saved while she was being shot. After her death, the next oldest, then the next, stood up and said the same thing. In this manner, all of them met their deaths. In situations like this, people ask, “Why would God let something like this happen?” However, even in midst of the pain that the Amish people were going through, God was there. Thus, they were able to forgive. 42 Upon hearing about the tragedy, James Faust said, “Even in such a tragic time, they demonstrated peace. There was hurt but no hate.” He added that by letting something like this happen, God had taught the world a lesson. And we must remember that when someone who was hurt avenges, it results in another suffering, not healing.Beloved church members, what I wondered, upon hearing about this was how could these people forgive so easily? Are we not all the same Christians who confess the same things to God every day? What is in them that allowed this? In response, someone had told me that, it was because they say the Lord’s Prayer every day. However, this did not satisfy my curiosity. Why? Because we too, declare the Lord’s Prayer every week. Thus, this couldn’t have been the only reason. However, the difference between their declaration and our declaration is that they are wholehearted and sincere in saying “Forgive us our debts, as we also have been forgiven our debtors.” And when they couldn’t forgive the person for the 7th, 8th or the 9th time, they didn’t stop but continued to try and forgive.
Beloved church members, to be honest, I do not have the right to give you this sermon today. Because I too, have so many things that I cannot forgive and I have not trained and practiced like the Amish people. Despite this, I’d like for us to seriously think about today’s words, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” I’d like for us to learn and practice together. For us to begin with our family, as where there is love, there is forgiveness. Today is special in that it is both thanksgiving and the anniversary for 9/11. Although we didn’t read it, the sermon today is also based on Genesis chapter 50 where we see Joseph saying to his brothers, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Beloved church members, forgiveness begins from those closest to us, our family. Although we aren’t able to visit home for thanksgiving, I hope that you can send your love and mercy. I also hope that you can say things that you haven’t been able to say before, such as ‘I love you,’ or ‘thank you,’ or ‘I’m sorry.’ And I hope that this will grow and such gestures will occur within our church. There is nothing in the world that you cannot forgive. We simply need to love and practice forgiving. Lastly, I hope, in God’s name, that at the end of it all, you will meet God, the foundation of forgiveness, mercy, grace, and love.(translated by Soyeon Song, Chayeon Song, Mika Choi)091111(S).pdf
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