Math Doesn’t Cut It 9-17-17

math

In this sermon, based on Matthew 18:21-35, I explore the parable of the wicked slave. The lord forgives an astronomical debt, but the recipient is unable to show the same mercy.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/math-doesnt-cut-it-9-17-17

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

I think at one time or another, every single young person tells themselves that they won’t turn out like their parents.  That when the roll is reversed and they are the parent, they won’t act the same way, they won’t think the same way…and they sure won’t talk the same way…When I have kids…I’ll be different.

Parents…how’s that working for you? (pause) I think its inevitable that certain patterns are going to emerge, because we have been shaped by those who came before us…and I recently realized this in conversation with my kids over the subject of homework…and specifically math…because I have heard from both of them “I hate math…I wish I didn’t have to do it.”

And just like every other parent that has come before…not to mention every math teacher who has taught…we say the same thing “You need to learn it, because you’ll use math everyday.” (pause) Now the old adage is true…math is everywhere…but…up until this point, I never really needed to worry about using math here in the context of preaching, (long pause) until….now.

Jesus is teaching his followers about forgiveness…reminding them of how important it is…how vital it is…especially among believers within the church. There is sin and brokenness…and there is repentance…and there is forgiveness…all of it aimed at the ongoing reconciliation that can and must occur among individuals.

Now as this conversation is going…Peter raises his hand…and I can’t help but picture Peter as the kid who squawks in math class saying “I’m never gonna need this.” (pause) Well actually Peter raises a more direct question…because Jesus has just told them that fellow believers…that other people are going to sin against them…and since Jesus has also given instructions on how to go about seeking reconciliation…I think Peter wants to clarify just how far we need to take this whole forgiveness thing.  “Lord…if a brother or sister sins against me, how often should I forgive?” He goes on a bit too, and actually Peter has probably given this a bit of thought because he doesn’t just pull a random number out of the air when he proposes a cap on the forgiveness scale…he says 7 times…and 7 happens to be the number of completion as far as the Jewish culture goes…after all, God created the world in 6 days, and on the 7th established the Sabbath…and Peter knows this…and so…to offer forgiveness to the same person 7 times…that should bring the matter to completion right?

But that’s not quite what Jesus has in mind is it…and here it is…math in the gospel. “Peter…dude! Not 7…but seventy times seven.” (pause) With this Jesus gives us a tiny little glimpse of the ongoing nature of forgiveness and reconciliation…when we think we’ve completed it…we’re just getting started. (pause) But as we see today, Jesus is just getting started…and following this little mathematical tidbit…he jumps into a parable to illustrate his point. And wouldn’t you know it…we have the opportunity for some more math in the midst of it.

The kingdom of heaven is like a king who’s ready to settle debts…so he starts calling in his markers…and low and behold…in walks one of the high rollers…a guy with a debt that goes beyond our imagination…10,000 talents. Now 10,000 of anything seems like a lot…but if we do a quick bit of math we begin to see just how astronomical his debt really is. A talent is equal to 15 years’ worth of daily wages for a laborer…15 years per talent…so this guy has got a bill worth 150,000 years of salary.

Now the second guy, he’s got a debt too…and here’s the last bit of math…100 denarii…which figures out to about 3-4 months of daily wages. Still a decent amount…but nothing compared to the first guy. This second slave…he can probably do something about it, but the first guy…not a chance…and yet…they both answer the same exact way. “Be patient with me and I will pay you everything.”

They are both buying a myth…regardless of the cost…we like to think that we can solve it don’t we? We like to think that given enough work…given enough time…given enough effort…we can earn our way back to even…like we’re playing Jeopardy and we’re in the hole because of answering too many questions wrong…but if we start answering them correctly we can get ourselves out of that hole.

And here’s the thing…at first…it seems that the king is buying into this system as well. Because he knows that there is no way that the slave is going to be able to repay that debt…and maybe just maybe, the king realized that he was kind of stupid to allow a debt that large in the first place…and so in order to soften the blow, the king follows the system and orders that the man and his wife and his kids all be sold…so in the very least he gets a tiny bit of value back. That may seem a little barbaric to us…but that’s the way things worked back in Jesus’ day.

Now when faced with the reality the slave begs for patience…and not only does he receive it…the king cancels the debt completely. Its done…its gone…the man is free from it…because the king chose to step away from the old system. Now by rights, this should just trickle down past the slave himself…this gift…this forgiveness of what he owes should benefit everyone else that’s a part of the system as well.

Consider this…for the slave to have this much of a financial burden to the king…he’s gotta be pretty high up in the whole system…with a lot of layers underneath him…a lot of different moving parts and people that all add up to an enormous financial responsibility…and so, if the king is still going to demand payment, then this slave needs to turn the cranks on everything and everyone below him in order to bring in what he’s response for.

But, on the flips side…if the king forgives the debt…if he erases it…which we know is exactly what he’s done…then this freedom…this blessing…it should trickle down through all those different layers as well…isn’t that amazing…that the act of mercy for one person, would affect the lives of so many others? (pause)
But what actually happens? Does the first slave make good on this wide spread blessing? Is he changed by it? Or does he keep playing by the same set of rules…by the same system that got him here in the first place?  (pause) We hear that he goes out and finds one of the slaves that owes him money…a tiny portion of the astronomical sum that was just removed from his responsibility…and rather than letting the blessing flow downward and outward…the first man keeps playing the game.

Give me what you owe…the second man responds in the very same way…word for word…be patient with me and I will repay everything…but he refused…and as we see, when news of his wickedness reaches the ears of the king, he’s punished…and the judgment which the first slave passed on, is the judgement that he in turn receives.  (pause)

Now here’s the thing…I’ve been talking about math and money…and debt and repayment…a lot of things that we’re familiar with…things that can be quantified…things that we can assign a specific value to…even if some of those values are so amazing huge that they go beyond our ability to really comprehend.

But what if there is no value…what if there is no scoreboard…and all we can really say about this whole parable is that the mercy of the king…who’s God just in case you were wondering…is beyond measure. No slave is ever going to earn 150,000 years of wages…you might as well call it a million years…or infinite…there is no amount that we can assign, nor should we…because when we fall in the trap of assigning a specific value or amount, then we’re still stuck in the same old system.

The system that says you’ve got to do this…or you have to avoid that…that you have to earn it…or even, that the mercy of God…the grace of God…the forgiveness of God is something that you can lose. (pause) The first man was forgiven and it should have affected every single relationship that he has. His family is safe from condemnation…and every other person that’s beholden to him in the system should be freed from it.

This is what the grace of God does when it truly lands within the heart and mind of the individual…because we realize in that moment that living in the reality of the kingdom of heaven right here, right now…it frees us from the burden of the system. And in turn we are freed to pass that same mercy…that same grace…that same freedom on to every other person that we are relationship with…whatever that relationship looks like.

But the guy in the parable couldn’t do it. Because the gift of the king never reached his heart…and his own brokenness…whether greed, or fear, or whatever it was that he was clinging to kept him trapped…and that’s why he was unable to show the same mercy to the second slave…and the result…torment…he found himself outside of the grace-filled gift of his Lord. (pause)
Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven has come near…and I believe that we are given the opportunity to live our lives each and every day in a way that reflects the kingdom that will be. Yes we are still broken and flawed…and yes we do still harm one another…but we also live in the freedom from the old system that requires us to earn it.  That’s the freedom that the man in the parable misses out on…he finds himself imprisoned…because he was never really free in the first place.

Truly…the grace of God…the forgiveness of our sins is beyond measure…and its foolish for us to even begin an attempt to quantify it. Because math just doesn’t cut it when we’re talking about the gospel…it is so utterly other to our limited minds…but the amazing thing about it…is that the freedom that we find within it…it already offered to you…the king has already canceled any and all debts…so let us live our lives in that freedom…and let us mirror that to all those around us…so that they too might encounter and embrace the same freedom that is so freely given through Jesus Christ. Amen.

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