The two servants

Sometimes people tease me, because I say so often , “This is one of the most important parts of the gospel!”

Well, I always mean it. Every week, we try to look at a portion of the good news. And it’s never trivial. But today’s message is especially important.

If I asked you, “What’s the most important thing Jesus told us to do?”, probably some of you would say, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. . .”

That would be right.

Or you might say, the most important thing is to put your trust in God. Have faith in Jesus. Accept him and his teaching, and follow him as best as you can.
That would be right, too.

Or, you might say that the most important thing is to give thanks every day, for everything you’ve been given, whether it’s big or small. Give thanks!

Or you might say, “Pray without ceasing. Find some time to pray, every day. Pray no matter how busy you are, how discouraged you are, wherever you are. Always take time to pray!”
That’s important, too!

Jesus might have said, the most important thing is to give to the poor. Give as generously as you can.

Give to anyone who asks you, Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. If they ask for your coat, give them your shirt as well. Don’t just give to people who can pay you back. Give to people who can never pay you back, and you’ll have treasure in heaven.
All good.

You can see how there are a lot of different things which could be counted as being the most important thing Jesus told us to do.

Pray to our Father in heaven. Lift up God’s name and give glory to God. Listen to the whispers of the Holy Spirit in your heart. Share what you have. Love one another.

Rejoice with people who rejoice. Grieve with people who mourn. Lay down your sword, and be a peacemaker in the world.

All important things.

Study your Bible, as often as you can. Read the Psalms. Read the great stories of faith. Read the words of Jesus. Read the guidelines for churches that are healthy and growing. Read all the promises of the Bible, and see where they’re coming true.

Always remember that Jesus is alive. He’s not dead and gone, thousands of years ago. He’s alive, today. His love and power are just the same.

One of the most important things there is.

But there’s one more thing.

I used to sing in a choir, and the choir director was always telling us to do stuff. Lift up your head! Don’t look down at the book! Breathe deeply! Open your mouth! Don’t close up your throat! Sing your vowels! Listen to your neighbor!

He was always telling us stuff. And then, right before a concert, he’d say, “Remember all the things!”

And when we did remember all the things, we always sounded great. When we forgot the things, well, we all knew it.

Anyway, I’m always saying, “This is a really important thing!” when I’m preaching. But this really is one of the most important things. And I hope we’ll all remember it.

“The kingdom of heaven,” Jesus said, “is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he wasn’t able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.

When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

Then the master called the first servant back in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

Jesus said, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Message – “The Two Servants”

Matthew 18:23-35

This probably doesn’t need a lot of explanation. Jesus said it pretty clearly.

Forgiving is one of the most important parts of being a Christian.

We can be generous with our time, our goods and our money. But if we don’t forgive, we’re not really living the life that Jesus talked about.

We can know everything about the Bible, and quote it chapter and verse, and teach everyone. But if we don’t forgive, it’s like we haven’t learned anything.

We can pray all the time, and be admired for our prayer. But if we don’t forgive, it’s not clear to me that God will listen.

Jesus one time told people, “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)

Forgiveness is something that’s baked into the very words of the prayer that Jesus himself taught us. We can’t say the Lord’s Prayer without saying, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

Didn’t Jesus, when he was on the cross, say, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing. . .”

This morning’s story is a parable about every one of us. It’s about how we want to be treated. And it’s about how we treat each other.

The first servant owes a mountain of debt. Ten thousand bags of gold. Call if fifty pounds a bag. That’s 500,000 pounds of gold. 250 tons of it.

At this week’s gold price of $1,758 an ounce, that works out to $28,128 a pound, times 500,000 pounds, do the math and we’re talking about just over 14 billion dollars here.

In cash. In gold. Pay it back. Right now.

It was an unpayable debt. There was no way he could ever pay it back.

The first servant was bankrupt. Which, if you think about it, is how we all are, before God.

We all have so many things we can never make right or pay back. All the words we’ve said, in carelessness or in anger or spite. All the things we’ve done deliberately. All the things we’ve failed to do.

All the times we’ve offended God, neglected his commandments, forgotten the teaching of Jesus. All the times we’ve been selfish, lied, fudged, ducked and dodged.

All the times we’ve looked the other way. All the times we’ve passed on by. All the times we’ve kept silent, when we should have spoken up. All the times we’ve hit back. All the times we’ve felt superior, when we should have been like Jesus, and kneeled down.

We have an unpayable debt. Even if we’re pretty good people – and most of us try to be – we still find ourselves bankrupt before God.

And even if we, as individuals, are doing our best, the human race is morally bankrupt. The horror and hell of war. The unspeakable cruelty of slavery, which still goes on today.

The way we treat refugees, when every one of us came from an immigrant family. The way our race has treated this beautiful world, is the ultimate in spiritual bankruptcy.
We are all the first servant in today’s story.

The first servant pleaded for mercy. He pleaded for forgiveness and pardon. He played on the kings emotions. Fell on his knees and begged for time.

The king, it says, was moved with pity, and didn’t just give him more time. The king totally forgave the debt. Wiped it right off the books. Didn’t ask for a penny back, out of a debt of over 14 billion dollars in gold.

You’d think that kind of relief would be life-changing. You’d think that someone who had been excused that way, would be different somehow.

But then, Jesus said, Servant #1 leaves the court room, goes out into the hall, and runs into Servant #2, who owes Servant #1 a much smaller debt. He owed a hundred silver coins, each one worth a day’s wages.

Call if $15 an hour, times 8 hours a day, do the math, comes to $12,000. A good deal of money. But chump change, compared to what Servant #1 had just been forgiven.

If you’re really interested, do the math again, Servant #1’s debt was almost 1.2 million times what Servant #2 owed him.

But did Servant #1 care about this? No. He grabbed Servant #2, put him in a choke hold, put him on the ground, and said, “Pay me my money!”

Servant #2 asked for time, using the exact same words that Servant #1 had just used in front of the king.

Back then, if you owed a debt, you could be thrown into jail – into debtor’s prison – till your family paid up. In extreme cases, the king might use extreme persuasion, till you told them the access code for your Swiss bank account.

That’s what Servant #1 did. He had Servant #2 thrown into debtor’s prison till he paid up.

Word got back to the king. King was some kind of angry. Sent the guards and dragged Servant #1 back in front of him. “I forgave you a mountain of debt,” said the king. “I showed you mercy. And yet you wouldn’t show mercy, to your fellow servant, who owed less than a millionth of what you owed me?”

“Lock him up,” said the king, “and throw the key away till he pays in full. Every last damned cent.”

Interesting thing about this story. When Jesus told it, not one person spoke up and said that this story was wrong. Nobody contradicted Jesus, and said it was exaggerated, or that this wasn’t human nature.

This is how we are. And we are all either Servant #1 or Servant #2 at some point in our lives.

The bottom line of the story, is that we need to forgive. If God is willing to wipe the slate clean for us, then we need to wipe the slate clean for everyone else. “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

Those to whom great mercy has been shown, need to show mercy themselves. The measure we use on others, will be the measure God uses on us.

And to make sure that you all know that I’m not just preaching at you, I need to ask you, to forgive me. There are times when I have offended people here at Springfield. It has never been intentional or deliberate.

But if I have ever offended you, by something I’ve said or done, by something I’ve neglected or failed, I ask you to forgive me.

I know that I make mistakes. I know that I lose my temper, like all of you. I say something wrong or clumsy, and people’s feelings get hurt.

If I haven’t called on you. If I haven’t kept my word. If you’ve felt insulted, I didn’t ever intend that, but I ask your forgiveness.

If, in any way, I have done anything, which made you stumble, please help me, not to do it again.

Nobody’s perfect. If you feel that I’ve pretended to be, I ask you to forgive me. I know that I’m certainly not perfect.

I also need to say, that there have been times, over the past 8 years, that I’ve had my feelings hurt by people here at Springfield. There have been times when I’ve been frustrated, or disappointed, or angry.

That’s not unusual. You’re human, too. We all are. But I want you to know that if any of you have offended me, I forgive you, with all my heart.

When I talk to other people about you, I always tell other people how good you are, how hard you try. I tell them about your generosity and kindness and faith.

I don’t’ hold anything against you. Not as your pastor. Not as a fellow Christian.

As I hope you know, I’m always trying to build up the church. I want to encourage everyone, in your walk of faith. I want you to feel proud of yourselves, and proud of your meeting.

But as Jesus himself told us, we always need to forgive. God forgives us. We forgive each other. We have all received mercy, and we need to show mercy, in our turn.

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