Friday, September 09, 2011

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

While transforming a bushel of tomatoes into spaghetti sauce yesterday afternoon, I listened to a Lutheran call-in talk show. The topic was the upcoming Sunday's Gospel from Matthew 18. Somehow, it's always easy for that reading to come off sounding as if Forgiving The Neighbor is the one good work we must do lest we fail to measure up to God's requirements.

On the talk show, one of the pastors cautioned another to not soft-pedal Jesus' words here. (He hadn't been!) While one pastor is saying that we cannot forgive as we ought, but that we rest in the forgiveness of sins obtained in Jesus' sacrifice, the other pastor is saying that we cannot minimize the seriousness of this injunction to forgive our neighbor. Even though we'd talked about that tension during Bible class earlier in the day, it took me until the last 45 seconds of the talk show to figure out what the problem was.

Yes, the Law does demand that we forgive. No, we cannot do it perfectly. Yes, there is forgiveness. No, forgiveness doesn't mean we can blow off what Jesus says about the mercy we sinners cannot give as we ought. So what bothered me? It was where we find the answer to the dilemma.

"I still have my sinful flesh which is unmerciful. This parable shows me my unforgiving heart."
Answer A: Jesus said, "If you do not forgive, your Father will not forgive you."
Answer B: I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Oh, and by the way, when your eyes are fixed more and more on Jesus and His mercy, that cannot help but transform you.

Answer A = Law and demands.
Answer B = Gospel and grace.

Answer A is true. It is good. There is no way to get around it. But it has no power to change my heart into a forgiving heart.

Answer B is true. It is good. And it does have the power to melt an unforgiving heart.

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