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September 6, 2005

Read this week’s lectionary text: Matthew 18:21-35

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki (one of my very favorite authors and theologians) offers up reflections on this text of forgiveness and the inherent tension upon preaching it on September 11.

What really is at the heart of forgiveness, anyway? What does it really mean to forgive? Who benefits when you forgive?

This gospel story gives us an economic model of forgiveness, the forgiveness of a debt. We here in the good ol’ US of A love stories like this. We can relate to them, because we loooove our money.

Anyway, the “lord” in this story starts off by cutting his losses. Sell the slave who owes me so much money, recoup what we can, and order repayment. The slave begs for mercy and receives it. Then the slave goes and tries to shake down a fellow slave who owes HIM money. When the fellow slave couldn’t pay, he was thrown into prison until payment was made. The other slaves were distressed and reported what they saw to the lord.

The lord goes full circle, and orders the slave to be tortured until the debt is paid.

Then the clincher, “So my heavenly father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Note that last statement. Forgiveness, even in this economically-based parable, is not a money thing, it’s a heart thing. You can “forgive” a debt yet still hold a grudge. The judgment in this parable seems to come as a result of the gangsta shakedown attitude rather than simple economics.

Who are we in this parable? The forgiving lord? The judging lord? The one who begs for mercy and displays piety in the presence of the lord yet acts like a buttcrack when the chips are down? Are we the tattletale slaves, the informants who want to tell the lord about the sins of others? Are we the slave who couldn’t come up with the money and got thrown into “debtor’s prison?” (Notice that in the parable we don’t know what became of this poor guy.)

Those are just some preliminary thoughts on this text. Look for me to add some more on Wednesday or Thursday.

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