We have here an abundance of texts–Matthew 18:21-35, Genesis 50:15-21, Psalm 103–about forgiveness this week. And as I am in the middle of feeling vey angry about the state of–gestures around–everything I find the concept of forgiveness with more foreboding than usual.
Here is Peter, who has perpetual foot-in-mouth, asking just how many times someone should be forgiven. Note that Peter asking only about other churches members i.e. equals. He suggests the highly biblical number 7. Jesus fires back with 77 times.
Jesus tells a parable about inequality. He speaks of slavery, and a slave who owes his lord 10,000 talents. And if he cannot pray the slave, the slave’s family and all of his possessions will be sold to pay this debt.
The mechanics of this situation confuse me. It sounds a little more like a sharecropping situation than enslavement as we know it today. I think about this enslaved person, who’s life is worth less than nothing. It’s a very George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life moment.
Then this debtor comes across another person of equal station who owes 100 talents–and he grabs him by the neck and demands the money back.
With police brutality echoing in the streets this entire parable is starting to turn sour in my mouth. Human beings do not react well to one another when we practice indebtedness. We turn violent, and mean. Even when one’s debts are forgiven, we still want what is owed to us. The need to get more and more wealth is a problem.
Forgive us our debts.
Then there is the story of Joseph who was definitely sold into slavery, beaten, abandoned, sexually abused and imprisoned. He was also raised into great power as the assistant to Pharaoh–experiencing great grace.
The brothers who betrayed Joseph do not have their father to plead on their behalf, but still they say your father/our father would want forgiveness and mercy.
What a moment to take into account God’s role as our father and pull in Psalm 103 with a God and father of grace. In most cultures the father is the punishing figure of the family. “Wait til your father gets home” carries within it an inherent threat. Yet, Joseph’s father would want forgiveness, our God father in Psalm 103 is slow to anger and abundant in mercy, and the landlord–the father of the entire household acts out of mercy.
Maybe the ultimate way to peace is to forgive debts. Perhaps that is why we pray for a forgiveness of debts as a part of “your kingdom come.” Perhaps this is also why we pray to forgive other’s debts. No doubt thesis why Hebrew people practiced a year of jubilee forgiving all debts and freeing all slaves. Peace comes once indebtedness ceases.
What do we owe one another? What do we need to set aright? What do we need to to institute so that debts can disappear.
What would the world be like with out college loans and mortgages and school lunch debts? What would happen if medical debt and credit card ceased to be a thing?
Seems to me that these things are vital for peace, and they also represent the world I want to live in, kingdom come. This does indeed sound like heaven.
What are you wrestling with this week? What hard questions is the Holy Spirit giving you today? How are you finding the good news? Let us know!
Katy Stenta is a solo pastor at a tiny church that is bigger on the inside in Albany, NY for over nine years and blogs about prayers and Narrative Lectionary at firstname.lastname@example.org She is also the co-founder of the fledgling TrailPraisers inclusive Worship. When she is not dreaming up projects and ideas, some of which creep into the church, she plays with her three boys-boys or goes and visits her husband at the library, while he works, to read.
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