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The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

Preached by Carol Kidd LLM on 13 September 2020:  Trinity 14
Matthew 18:21-35

“May I speak in the name of Jesus Christ who calls us to forgive as we have been forgiven” Amen

Peter asked: ‘Lord, how often should I forgive?

Jesus reminds that forgiveness is not a simple matter of calculation. Peter’s question, of how many times forgiveness should be offered before giving up, brings to mind today’s many victims of abuse and the relatives mourning loved ones murdered in the Manchester Arena bomb attack, not forgetting all affected by the atrocities that have led to the Black Lives Matter movement …. And – and – and…. for there are many examples of damaged lives, people who have been sinned against who cry to God [now in 2020] that very same question: ‘Lord, how often should I forgive?

The parable reminds us not to act like the unforgiving servant who failed to reciprocate the mercy he received from the king. As anger and impatience, bitterness and hatred, consumed him the penalty he had to bear was imprisonment, separation from family and friends, disgrace within the community.

Sometimes, before being able to forgive, there is a desire to know how compensation will come – a sense of forgiveness in return for meting out punishment. As Christians we are called to offer forgiveness in confidence that the final judgement lies with God.

Rather than hungering for revenge, the act of forgiving can begin to release the victim from the power of evil. Yet when forgiveness is offered the significance of sin and suffering is not lessened, and the need for evil doers to be called to account still remains.

Forgiving does NOT mean the perpetrator will escape punishment. Forgiveness does NOT deny that the wrongdoing ever happened, does not make cruelty and harm acceptable. In forgiving those who sin against us we are not condoning their actions, nor giving permission for their behaviour to continue.

The Bible repeatedly condemns the actions of sinners, we can read how perpetrators of evil, judged by God, are called to bear the consequences of their sins. Distressed by the servant’s behaviour the community in the parable reported all that had taken place. Forgiveness and justice should always go hand in hand. Reporting sinful action is essential in protecting against others becoming victims and to stop the cycle of sin.

It is hard, and courageous to forgive, prayer is essential especially if it is not safe to forgive face-to-face. Calling on God’s mercy and grace will provide strength for the task ahead. Heartfelt prayer that the perpetrator might come to realise the damage done – the hurt they have caused – repent of their wrongdoing and turn to Christ’s saving love [so that never again will anyone else experience suffering at their hands], is the very prayer that starts to set the victim free.                                                                

Forgiving brings release from being consumed by bitterness, resentment and anger – yet it is not easy and may take a long time and unlimited patience, even years, to reach the place of meaningful forgiveness. The unforgiving servant was punished: no repentance = no forgiveness. In comparison a victim who forgives from the depths of their heart can find freedom to begin to move on and face the future.

For Peter and the others, the road to Calvary stretched out ahead – for us the Cross is the reason we can be assured that our sins have been forgiven. In relationship with Christ victims can find release and yes, the truly repentant who open themselves to judgement by confessing their sins can find redemption.

Through accepting Jesus’ freely given gifts of forgiveness, mercy and love the forgiving are forgiven and the depravity of sin begins to be healed. Forgiveness is both costly and free. Through death on the Cross our heavenly King paid the highest possible price. To those who truly believe in His saving love the gift of forgiveness is freely given.

Christ calls us to forgive as we have been forgiven, in return let us offer our lives in His service that others may know that they too can find freedom in Him. Amen.