14th Sunday after Trinity
Romans 14: 1-12 Matthew 18: 21-35
How often have we been in the situation where we were talking with others only to have someone rush up to us and say, “Excuse me, but can you tell me what ……., or when.………”. after being diverted from our thread of conversation we try to pick up from where we had stopped by saying, “Now, where was I”.
Peter sometimes did just this, he would rush in and interrupt Jesus in mid-flow diverting him onto another subject. The result of this particular diversion was a memorable saying. He asked a question and then attempted to show how over-generous he was tried to provide the answer.
It was the teaching of those days that a person must forgive someone three times. "If a man commits an offence once, they forgive him; if he commits an offence a second time, they forgive him; if he commits an offence a third time, they forgive him; the fourth time they do not forgive." The Biblical teaching for this comes from Amos. It was not to be thought that a person could be more gracious than God, so forgiveness was limited to three times.
This is where Peter goes one step further. With plenty of self-satisfaction he asks if it will be enough if he were to forgive seventy times. Jesus replied that there was no limit to forgiveness.
We then hear the story of the servant and debt. Now, we are not looking at a few pounds here. This is truly massive. The one Bible that I checked in quoted the debt as being 2.4 million pounds. This is rather large, even by today’s standards. The total wealth of a province such as Galilee was only 300 talents, about half of this debt. How on earth could a servant rack up such a colossal debt as this? The second servant had a debt of just 5 pounds. There is no comparison here.
The point is that nothing others can do to us can in any way compare with what we have done to God; and if God has forgiven us the debt we owe to him, we must forgive our fellows the debts they owe to us. Nothing that we have to forgive can even faintly or remotely compare with what we have been forgiven.
When we look at the two debts in the story we can feel tempted to judge between the servants and the treatment. But, time and time again, we are told that we should not judge our fellows. The truth is that we are not the judges but we are the judged. When we stand before the judgement seat of God we stand alone. We do not have learned counsel at our side.
In the days of old, in the Forum, there was, opposite the Capitol the tribunal, or the judgement seat, from where judgement was dispensed. When Paul was writing his letter Roman justice required more than one judgement seat. That is why some of the great Basilicas had more than one such seat arranged in porches around the side. To see someone standing facing a seat was a common sight.
There are times today when someone has been spared for the sake of circumstances, be it a wife, a parent, a child, or whoever. But at the time of our judgement before that throne of God we are alone. We come into the world with nothing and we take nothing out, just who we are.
Well, yes, but that is not the whole truth of the matter. In fact, when we stand at the judgement throne before God we do have Jesus at our side. We stand clad in the merits that are Jesus’s.
Standing there, in front of God, our whole life laid out before us, both good and bad things, we are laid bare before him. We may take heart from something that Collin Brooks, writer and journalist, wrote in one of his books, “God may be kinder than we think. If he cannot say, 'Well done! good and faithful servant,' it may be that he will say, 'Don't worry, my bad and faithless servant: I don't altogether dislike you.’” Sinners as we are, God loves us for the sake of his Son, Jesus Christ. If we have lived alongside Jesus he will stand at our side before the throne.
But there is more to it than that. God loves us. Sinners as we are, he loves us for the sake of Jesus Christ. True, we must stand before God's judgment seat in the naked loneliness of our own souls; but, if we have lived with Christ in life, we shall stand with him in death, and before God he will be the advocate to plead our cause.
Collect for the 14th Sunday after Trinity
whose only Son has opened for us
a new and living way into your presence:
give us pure hearts and steadfast wills
to worship you in spirit and in truth;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.