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Visions from the Catacombs week before September 14 2014

Matthew 18:21-35

21Then 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?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. 23“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25and, 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. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28But 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.’ 29Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

What I am Learning:

I want to look at this text today in light of another text from Colossians:

19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. Colossians 1: 19-20

The word “reconcile” is the key word here. In this case it is a seldom used word “apokatalazai” which means that God is bringing all parts of human and earthly existence into harmony and unity and balance in relationship with God. The verb form implies work that has begun, is happening and will continue until it is finished.

I think we could understand all of Jesus work, and therefore our work as part of Christ’s body, through this word.

Yet, reconciling is hard work.

Many of you know that St. Philip’s was robbed twice in the last month or so. Nobody was hurt. As the robbers were leaving they left a box of “Trix” cereal by the door, propped up so that we could see the message: “you have been tricked.”

I have spent literally days and days responding to this theft. There were people to console, a security plan to create, things to buy and install, police reports and lots and lots of insurance paperwork. We got some of the things back, including the meaningful silver and brass work that we use in our worship. But even this takes more time, as each item must be retrieved and then assessed for damage.

Mostly they stole my time. This put me far behind in fall planning for TCC and for St. Philip’s and it put me behind in my home winterization projects.

Compared to what human beings go through, my experience here is next to a nothing. Looking at the world around us, we see people being killed or losing loved ones to war. We see airplanes being shot down in Ukraine by Russian supported forces. We see massive economic injustice in our Black and Latino communities.

Yet, even what I experienced holds a certain challenge when I think about reconciling with the thieves.

I plan to reach out to the thieves and to offer a conversation that might lead to reconciliation.

Jews believed that reconciliation was a long process. This is what it looked like:

1) Recognition by the offending party that they have done wrong

2) Stopping the behavior

3) Make restitution

4) A public apology

5) Public reconciliation between the two parties

(You can find an excellent article about this here: http://www.crosscurrents.org/blumenthal.htm )

But what if they don’t want to be reconciled? What if they deny they did it? What if they refuse to even respond to my offer for conversation?

Reconciliation is a two-way street, it takes two for reconciliation to fully take place. If they thieves are not interested then we can’t fully get there.

But I can do my interior work, and can guide the work of our congregation in its work, so that we can be ready to either

1) go through the process of reconciliation

2) feel peace about it if the thieves are not willing

3) be ready if somewhere down the road the thieves become willing

In the gospel reading, Peter asks how many times we remain open to the process of reconciliation. Jesus’ answer was “seventy times seven.” This is a first century way of saying “an infinite number of times.”

This does not mean that we open ourselves to abuse from those who refuse to change their behavior. This does not mean that we allow ourselves to be victimized over and over again.

It means that we continue to be open to the hard work of reconciling because that is what God is all about. God is healing and creating the world. Jesus’s work is reconciling all things to God and all things and people to each other.

You can see that there remains much to do, not only in the world but within our own lives.

Then Jesus tells this story about the master who forgives his manager, the manager does not forgive others, and then the manager is put in prison.

I think this story is a warning in the form of a ironic exaggeration called “hyperbole” by Biblical scholars. People in the Middle East in the first century often used exaggerated stories to get their point across, much as we do today. When I hear this story I hear people laughing when Jesus gets to the end of it.

In the first part of the text, Jesus is basically saying that disciples are agents of God – and that God is all about forgiveness and reconciliation. As agents we are to carry out God’s priorities. Jesus uses the hyperbole in this story to emphasize the importance of forgiveness.

After all, how can a God who calls us to reconcile an infinite number of times not forgive twice?

God is reconciling all things to God in Jesus Christ.

As his body in the world we take part in that ongoing work of reconciliation until the day comes when we sit at the great feast healed of our anger, hatred and relational brokenness. The One who invites all people to that meal also invites us to a foretaste of that meal every time we share the Eucharist with each other – to strengthen us for the work of reconciliation that God is leading in our world.