Sunday Reflection

By 6th September 2020Reflections

Read Matthew 18:21-35

Most theologians would possibly suggest that our duty as Disciples of Jesus is not to tell people what we know but rather to bear witness to whom we know – God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In theological terms the fundamental discourse on Christian theology is not about what universally has to be but what historically has been.

And essentially, in everyday terms for you and I, that effectively means that we are called to be witnesses to a story – the story of God’s love and redemptive intervention into this world. For example, the Exodus story was told again and again to the people of Israel. It was passed down through the generations and formed a common vein throughout the history of the people – and of course is still told even today. Here in Scotland we might not have quite the same history as the people of Israel. But we do have our national history and we all know stories of that has unfolded over the centuries…….But what about stories of our faith…

Many of us will do doubt have favourite Bible stories and passages that we return to again and again. Ones where we find encouragement, support and inspiration – stories which just seem to uplift us when we need it most. And we also use these Bible stories to support our Christian discipleship – resourcing us, inspiring us, comforting us and assuring us that our experience is not unique……That there is some deep companionship of faith that extends across time…

And sharing these stories with other people matters. Because then we are all perhaps able to learn something different from different stories – or even the same story. Because there is always something in a story that we have perhaps not fully appreciated, but someone else has…..And maybe we see that in our Gospel passage today…

Usually when we look at this passage we tend to focus on Peter’s question and we think of the deeper understanding it has to offer us on the power of forgiveness. Where Jesus, in choosing to answer Peter’s question by means of this story, seeks to move Peter, and the others, to a new attitude on what forgiveness is really all about. And it’s good that we do think about that.

But as this story unfolds, for me perhaps one of the most interesting and challenging aspects of it, is why this man, on receiving the cancelling of his own debt, goes on to demand money he is due from someone else……Why would he do that….Most of us might simply say that it was out of greed and now that his own debt had now been cancelled he could get all the more for himself. But is it that simple…

Because when we look at this story it’s almost as if he is continuing to behave as if his debt had not been cancelled. As if he is still on some kind of automatic pilot, so to speak and has not fully heard or understood the greatness of the gift he has been given. So in essence, although he has been forgiven, he has not received this forgiveness. Thus he has not fully accepted the chance to begin again…

He has continued to hold his identity in the old pattern of being a debtor, with the attendant need and obligation to make restitution. So he has closed his mind in some way…he has not felt the wonder of what he is given…and thus not allowed himself to become a new creation……
But here’s the thing – is Jesus perhaps saying that in fact, we are all like this man…

If we are completely honest with ourselves, we have all received far more than we are aware of or acknowledge. From the abundance of the earth around us, family love and care, appreciation that we do not see from family, neighbours and work colleagues, and above all else, in love from God…. Yet perhaps the question is, do we truly open ourselves to all this unconditional love available to us.

It seems to me that not only is Jesus answering that question, He is also expanding the question and the concept of forgiveness. Throughout this story Jesus presents forgiveness, less as some form of restitution to clean our faults, but and more as a continual flow of love from God to us. And when this flow of forgiveness is experienced, then it should naturally flow on, which is what the fellow slaves understand in the story. So when it doesn’t they take action.

In this story, Jesus is drawing attention to forgiveness that is always present and the only thing that can stop that flow is our reaction to it…our closing off from what is always there for us…..When we act without receiving the flow of this unconditional love from God, then we experience ourselves as the first man in the story did, as imprisoned….However there is something else to consider here….

Another key in the story is that the man himself does not perceive what he is doing. It is those around him who could bring awareness, which is a good reminder of another of Jesus’ sayings in Matthew 7:3…… Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

Is this something that we are guilty of from time to time, I wonder…too busy focussing on the mistakes, faults and sins of others…Whilst failing to acknowledge just how far off the mark we are…Is this something that we might need to reflect upon more often?….

When we look through the Gospel narratives we see that Jesus modelled this kind of reflection with the Disciples, reviewing events with them afterwards. Indeed this practice could be seen as part of Jesus’ healing ministry. And it is important because such reflection enables changes of behaviour. And in the case of Jesus Disciples it helped to change them and their perception of themselves and the world about them…..So maybe this is something we should be doing…

This short story shows us that not only can forgiveness be difficult for some people to offer in some cases, it can also be difficult for some people to receive. And it is vitally important that we acknowledge that, because forgiveness is a cycle that needs to be completed.
Others can forgive us when we do wrong and Jesus offer of forgiveness is for every one of us. But unless we receive this forgiveness, like the man in our story we will continue in the same old way.

And how do we receive this forgiveness. We have to begin by asking ourselves some serious questions. Do we fully understand the real power of forgiveness? Do we understand how we receive this forgiveness? Do we understand why we receive this forgiveness?

Do we truly accept and acknowledge in our hearts that we need this forgiveness, whether that be from another individual or our Saviour Himself? And most importantly, are we willing to embrace Jesus as our Saviour, repent of our sinful ways and know His forgiveness in our hearts?

Forgiveness isn’t simply about saying sorry. Forgiveness is a healing process, a healing process that only God can bring about – for both the person offering the forgiveness and the person receiving the forgiveness. So it’s a process about letting God’s Spirit work within us, changing us from within to transform what our personal limitations might be.

And if we can do this then we learn to live, not by our own definitions of good and bad or of what is right and wrong. But rather we can begin to allow ourselves to become vehicles of God’s love…..

And surely this is what our faith is all about…….

Almighty and loving God, You are always patient and forgiving, reaching out to us in eternal welcome and holding us all in You tender loving care. And we thank You for this love towards us, which continues to reach out to us, even when we turn away. Forgive us when we love ourselves and not You, and when we pursue our own goals and not Your way. Help us at all times to look to Your Son and whatever we face any situation to ask ourselves what He would have us do, and as best we can to do so.

We remember today those in our community who need you most at this time, especially those closest to us – our own circle of family, friends and neighbours – and pray that Your hand would be upon them. And as we look beyond our own community we pray for all Your children everywhere who are facing challenging and difficult days. Draw each one close to You we pray and minister to them as only You can, thinking especially of those who are ill or recently bereaved. And be with Your Church Lord as it seeks to bear witness to Your name at this time. Enable all who profess Your name to share Your love in all we say and do. And all this we ask in Jesus name. Amen.