15th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, Mercy and Peace from God our Father, His Son our Lord, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Sanctified members of the body of Christ, I ask you, ‘How often will by brother sin against me and I forgive him?’ Our brother’s sins against others are not a singular event, nor are the acts of violence and terror isolated to one group of political or religious conviction.
We all know that evil has been active in our lives for thousands of years. This evil, begotten by the Prince of all evil, has not evolved much over the years. It is true our weapons of terror and hate have evolved, but the actual iniquity of our brothers and ourselves remains the same.
Greed, lust, envy still remains the motivational sins. In the very first book of the Bible, we read of the very first sin, the turning away from God for our own envious, selfish desire. In the first book of our Scriptures, are recorded the acts of terrorism committed by a group of brothers on one of their own family.
Joseph’s brothers, out of jealousy, sold him into slavery, into the hands of those who did not believe in the one true God. When the day of judgment came upon them, that is, when their father died and no longer could protect them from the brother on whom they had committed these sins, these brothers came to Joseph to ask for forgiveness.
Their fear was in retaliation. They feared retribution for their sins. They saw evil as the only repayment for the evil they once carried out. It was right that they should fear, they bowed down to a man with complete authority over them. With a word, Joseph could have his brothers slain or enslaved. His vengeance could reach beyond the individuals of the crime to everyone related to them, be it sons & daughters, friends, acquaintances and even the lands and livestock. From his throne of power, Joseph could erase the tribe of Jacob from the face of the earth.
Yet what did Joseph do? He comforted them and spoke kindly to them. He said to his brothers, “Am I in the place of God?” Joseph knew that only God could avenge the evil of his brothers. Joseph may have been thinking about what God had revealed to his people in Deuteronomy:
Vengeance is Mine, and recompense;
Their foot shall slip in due time;
For the day of their calamity is at hand,
And the things to come hasten upon them.’
“For the Lord will judge His people
And have compassion on His servants, [Deuteronomy 32:35-36]
Joseph reached out with compassion and forgiveness for his brothers. Therefore, I ask you; ‘How often will by brother sin against me and I forgive him?’ In many and various ways, our fellow members of the human race, our brothers, have sinned against us. They have killed our friends and families, our loved ones. They have wrought destruction on our land, our home. Can we forgive? Should we forgive?
‘Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.”’ [Matthew 18:21-22]
In the past, I have spoken to you about sin and forgiveness. Confusion lies in the act of repentance and the forgiveness of sin. If your neighbor comes and asks for forgiveness, we are to forgive. If that brother does not truly repent, that is he only mouths the words with not true desire in his heart, our forgiveness will mean nothing to him. If he dies in his iniquity, he is surely lost and will face the judgment of Christ, but we will not be held accountable.
Just as Ezekiel was to warn the people of their sin and to return to the Lord, we must also warn our brothers and sisters of their transgressions so that they may return to the fold. If we do not warn our fellow man about the truth of their sin, we will be answering to Christ on the last day. Jesus himself gave us the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
“I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” [Matthew 18:18]
When we forgive those who have wronged God and us, we are blessed. However, if those we forgive refuse to repent, we are set free from our obligation to the law and their sin is now between them and God alone.
The author of the commentary, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel by R.C.H. Lenski, put it this way:
“This remission on the part of the wronged brother is entirely separate thing and is not to be confused with the remission God may grant. We must at once forgive every wrong, whether the wrongdoer repents and makes acknowledgment to us or not. That clears us. We hold nothing against the man who has wronged us. But he has his sin to settle with God. It is to help him settle it aright with God, so that God, too, will remit and dismiss his sin, that Jesus orders the procedure outlined.” [p. 708]
We have our neighbors, our friends, our family members, and yes, even our enemies to forgive. Therefore, I ask you; ‘How often will by brother sin against me and I forgive him?’
Jesus encourages us to have a searching love for sinners and to be ready to make repeated attempts to bring sinners to repentance.
Peter seems to be asking, “Is there a limit to God’s forgiveness? Is there a limit to the times that I should forgive others? At what point am I to say, “That’s enough; I can forgive you no more!?”
Peter’s dilemma is one that all of us have faced. Relationships between sinful people are often marred by sinful words and actions – some recurring repeatedly. In every marriage, in every family, in every friendship, Christians are and will be faced with the situation in which forgiveness is requested of them – again and again. We, too, may wonder with Peter, whether our forgiveness toward others has limits. Our own nature leads us to want to limit forgiveness; other people may encourage us not to let someone take advantage of our willingness to forgive.
Jesus’ answer to Peter is an answer to us in our Gospel according to Matthew, with a parable for us to learn from him about forgiveness. Christ speaks about the spiritual kingdom and teaches us that in the church it is not the sword of the secular kingdom that is to be used, but rather grace and forgiveness.
The problem comes when we try to put the forgiveness of sins into practice. We know that all of our sins are forgiven, and by that faith, through Christ, we are righteous before God. This righteousness is completely different from the righteousness of this world as proclaimed by all its lawyers, intellectual giants and philosophers.
They all reach the same conclusion, that righteousness must be an inner, inherent characteristic of the human heart and soul. However, this Gospel lesson teaches us that Christian righteousness is not a universal characteristic that all share. Christ is teaching us that we become righteous and are freed from sins through the forgiveness of sins.
This forgiveness of sins did not come from us, nor can we do anything from our own sin to save ourselves. We must look outside ourselves for our salvation. Through Christ’s sacrifice for our sin upon the cross, the price of our debt for which we could never repay, was forgiven. Christ’s death and resurrection cleared our debt before our Father in heaven. When Christ said, ‘You are forgiven’ we became holy and righteous before God.
This may be a struggle for us for we cannot imagine the depth of our sin. There are sins I have committed and still commit every day, just as the debt which the servant owed was not an imaginary debt but one he truly owed, ten thousand talents worth. Knowing this, are we supposed to say, ‘All my sins are forgiven’ just because someone said to me: “Your sins are forgiven.”? I certainly do not have the power to pay this debt.
Yet Christ does have the power and he did pay this debt. He forgave us our sins thus freeing us from eternal death and separation from our Father in heaven. Even if we do not commit all the great, outward sins like adultery, theft, or murder, unless we believe in the forgiveness of sins, our sins will condemn us to the abyss of hell.
Each sin is like a coin continually building up like the national debt, crushing us with its weight. This is why the Apostle’s Creed includes those most precious words, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” We believe that sin exists and that at the same time it has been forgiven. Forgiveness devours sin. We have been baptized into the name of Christ; thereby we have received forgiveness of sin and are pure. The guilt is still there, but the sin is forgiven.
Christ created this forgiveness of sins in us through baptism and he continues to maintain it through the Word, Sacrament, absolution and the Holy Spirit whom he sends into the heart. Sin is indeed present in us, but is forgiven. That is how it is with the sin that weighs us down; it is truly sin, but it is not a damning kind of sin, because it is forgiven. It is like death, which destroys the Christian physically; it is truly death, but a death that has already been overcome. This forgiveness of sin began through baptism and is preserved through the Word.
Look upon your life in Christ. You have been forgiven!
Therefore, I ask you; ‘How often will by brother sin against me and I forgive him?’ I hope and I pray that your answer is the same as our Lord Jesus Christ. “Forgive as I have forgiven you.”