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Sunday, July 10, 2016

Today’s Reading | Matthew 18:21–35

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, 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 slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (NRSV)

Radical obedience. Radical grace.

You know how the voice of an influential teacher stays in your head for a long time, maybe forever?

When I read passages like this from the Gospel of Matthew (though the first two verses here are also in Luke, the parable is only found in Matthew), I hear the voice of Richard Dillon, under whom I was privileged to study in graduate school. From him I learned that the Jesus presented to us in this text is more forthright and demanding than warm and fuzzy. The author of this Gospel puts some pretty provocative and shocking words into Jesus’ mouth to get us to sit up and pay attention. (“Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” ring any bells?) What Matthew’s Jesus asks of us is hard—impossible even—but there are no excuses for not trying, because help is available to us. Radical obedience. Radical grace.

This parable is a wonderful example of that mantra. Forgive my messy, broken, sinful sisters and brothers over and over again, so many times that I should just give up counting? Yes, because that’s how many times God, and each of the people of God in my life, have to forgive messy, broken, sinful me. Do I like thinking of God as a king who punishes servants by turning them over to torturers? Of course not, but the gravity of that image does remind me that discipleship is serious business and that I am accountable for what I do.

Radical obedience. Radical grace.

Jesus, through whom I have access to radical grace and unreasonable love and foolish forgiveness, help me to imitate your radical obedience. I will never be perfect, but with your help I can be so much better than I am today. Thank you. (And thank you, too, for excellent teachers.) Amen.

Written by Susan Quaintance, Program Coordinator,
Center for Life and Learning

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