Scripture: Matthew 18:21-35
Yesterday we attended a chili cook-off in Lee’s Summit. These cook offs are very interesting events, people walk around talking, laughing and having a great time. They mingle around trying around seventy different types of chilies they try it and everyone says, “Yum, what is that you put in this?”
People all have different reasons for asking. For one they ask after smelling the chili that was cooking. Asking for obvious religious reasons since they did not want to eat pork. Others were looking for find a way to make their own recipes better. While some were just curious, they tasted or smelled something that peaked their interest.
What’s in this? Most of us have asked this question at some point. I personally ask because I am amazed that anyone can mix various ingredients of meat, spices, herbs and other things to make something so good. Even when the ingredients don’t sound like it should taste good together. Now most everyone here knows how to cook, we can smell that evidence coming through the vents from the kitchen. Many of you could probably teach anyone in this room to make some of their favorite dishes. You might even be able to teach someone how to understand the art of cooking.
Life can be illustrated in a pot of chili or a good spaghetti sauce. There are various ingredients and spices that people add. Some times heat is applied to unlock flavors. Sometimes things are just left to blend naturally. Every once in a while we sense something different and we feel we should add it to our own life. This is where Peter is in this passage. It was a common held teaching that a person, a righteous person should forgive another person three times and after that they would forget about them. Now Peter senses that there is something about Jesus that is different from this common teaching. He forgives a lot of people sometimes he way beyond the norm. Sometimes he expresses forgiveness even before anyone knows forgiveness is needed. So Peter thought maybe forgiveness is the key, the ingredient missing in his life. So he asks seven that’s a good number should I forgive seven times? Seven is a very significant number in the Hebrew culture. It is a number that represents God; it represents the number of days in a week, the days of creation. More significantly the day of the seven that God rested, the Sabbath the day set aside to remember God and to rest from our labors. So Peter is thinking maybe a dash more forgiveness…and that will make his life better.
This comes up right after Jesus talked about what we should do if someone sins against you. The spice missing is forgiveness. I’m pretty sure Peter had some issue on his mind. His brother Andrew probably took the last piece of cake, and he thought you know that’s it! He started counting, trying to have an out or maybe at least a formula to live by. But Jesus answers, I imagine Him almost laughing as he speaks with Peter. “7…are you serious 7 times…really? Not 7 but 77 times. (Some say 70 times 7 times).” Now for some of us looking for a formula of life we begin to do the math. We are making a list and checking it twice. We are trying to decide how many times we’ve forgiven each person. But just as we join Peter in these calculations with Peter, Jesus tells a story.
There once was a king trying to settle his accounts and he noticed a man owed him ten thousand talents. This man somehow was entrusted with 10,000 big brick of silver. Each one worth the equivalent of fifteen years income for common people, so today this man would have been responsible for roughly $4.5 billion. This guy owes $4.5 billion and he couldn’t even get a dime to begin to pay it off he had 10,000 bricks of shiny metal and he couldn’t even find one. His family is at risk of being separated, everything is lost and he is at the total mercy of this king.
The king is merciful he knows that it is impossible to get that much money around. In ancient times even being sold into debtors slavery could not even possibly raise enough cash to cover the debt, and to be honest he is obviously not missing the cash since he seemed to be able to release that amount in the first place. So he tells this man, “Go home we got it taken care of.” Imagine the burden lifted off his shoulders, 10,000 bricks of silver lost and no longer being held over him. And I’m pretty sure 10,000 of anything would be heavy.
Now imagine Peter. He knows what is being said. He is…was a fisherman. Not worth much to the greater Hebrew community, just another common laborer filling a role. Yet here this teacher gave him a second chance. He was given an education, before no one thought he was good enough to invest their time in, but this teacher did, a priceless gift. God gave him a chance.
Jesus continues, knowing that Peter and the rest know the chance that they have been given. This man, Jesus’ story continues, goes out and decides to settle his own accounts. He finds a fellow servant who owes him 100 denarii. Denarius is one of the most common roman coins. It is the most common because it was the average daily wage of most people. So today this coin would be worth $80, so this man owes $8,000. This guy grabbed this servant, chokes him, and demands the money. A man that was released from a debt of $4.5 billion threw a man in jail for not paying a debt that could be paid off in fairly easy monthly installments. Now imagine Peter and his question, forgive seven times? I think his foot planted itself firmly into his mouth.
Relationships are life. The king gives you a chance investing more in us than we could ever imagine paying back. Yet how do we treat those around us? We look for a recipe; we want to shake some salt or maybe a little cinnamon. There isn’t a recipe for relationships; it is something that has to be made from scratch. Just like grandma’s cooking. The spice of relationships is forgiveness. We confront those who sin against us only to help them and encourage them to draw closer to God. Along with the confrontation there should be forgiveness, yet what is it?
When God the Father forgives it is said that He removes it as far as the east is from the west, the throws our sin into a sea, and He turns His back on our sin and remembers them no more. If this is the example of forgiveness, how our God deals with a repentant person, we can’t keep track not of seven, seventy-seven, or seventy times seven sins that we have forgiven. The thing is we couldn’t and can’t do this alone. We can’t forget not without the Holy Spirit’s help.
We live in a melting pot of cultures. We work, go to school with, and live next to people with histories that stretch across the world and time. To hear the stories we have to lift the lids and add them into our lives. Share time, build relationships, and become vulnerable. This vulnerability can lead to injury in many ways. Injury in a relationship is part of life to be annoyed by those involved in our lives this is why siblings fight. Forgiveness and reconciliation blends the flavors, enhances and accents who we are.
As we reflect on our lives, those people that have entered into them, making us laugh and cry. Let us remember the histories we share. Let us remember and release what we can. Remember all that we have been forgiven of and all that has been invested in us. Let us remember all we have been given through Christ who come to live among us, who died to cover our debts, who was buried, and who rose to live forever in and for us. And especially today as we remember the lives lost and the events that pushed the world into war, let us remember that we are all just people trying to find our way. Let us be more open, more understanding, and more forgiving of those around us.