Monday, September 15, 2014

Astronomical forgiveness

My sermon for this week was based on Matthew 18:21-35.

To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.

In today's Gospel, Peter asks Jesus how many time we should forgive someone.  He suggest 7 times.  Chances are, Peter was trying to suck up to Jesus here, because it was apparently pretty clear in Jewish Law that the maximum number of times you should forgive someone was 3.  After that, all bets were off.

Now Peter was probably expecting to get a gold star from Jesus for suggesting that he forgive someone 7 times, which is double the prerequisite, plus one.  But Jesus ups the game by saying, "No, you should forgive someone 70 times 7 times".

I'll save you the trouble, that's 490 times.

Now, the most obvious question to me is what kind of moron would allow someone to sin against them 490 times and still forgive them?  No one, that's who, and I don't even think Jesus is really suggesting that number.

Rather, I expect he is using hyperbole to make the point that we should adopt a permanent and constant attitude of forgiveness.  I do not think Jesus would advocate us being good-natured doormats!

The reason I expect he is using hyperbole is that he unquestionably uses it in the parable he tells to illustrate his point, but that hyperbole is lost on most of us because we do not know the exchange rate of talents to denarii.

Jesus tells the story of a king whose slave owes him 10 000 talents.  A talent was a monetary unit that could be divided into denarii.  There were 6000 denarii to a talent, and one denarius was considered a day's wage.

So let's put this into modern perspective: Ontario minimum wage is $11 per hour.  An average work day is 8 hours, so therefore, an average day's wage would be $88.

So, multiply that by 6000 (the amount of day's wages in a talent) and multiply that again by 10 000 (the amount of talents the slave owed) and what do you get in modern terms?

$5 280 000 000.

That's not a mistake.  This slave owed the king in excess of 5 billion dollars.

So there are a couple of things which lead me to believe Jesus was exaggerating.  First, no "slave" would ever have had that much money at his disposal.  Second, no king would ever forgive that much debt.  This is an impossible sum of money when you consider that according to one source, the average GDP of the Galilee in Jesus' time was estimated to be about 300 talents.

But Jesus is trying to make a point here.  The king clearly represents God, and the first point Jesus tries to make is that God's forgiveness knows no bounds.

Except to those who are not forgiving, apparently.

This slave, who should be in the best mood ever recorded by man, goes out and gets stingy with his fellow slave who owes him 100 denarii.  Using the same math I used above, he is owed $8800, which is not an insignificant sum, but compared to 5 billion dollars?  Come on...

Clearly, something was wrong with this guy that he was not able to show the same forgiveness he was shown.  Clearly, he had failed to absorb any gratitude or any lesson whatsoever.

Here is the thing about forgiveness: it is essentially selfish.  When I forgive someone, I don't do it to make them feel better.  I do it to make me feel better.  Yes, the other person probably feels better, and that is great (I have certainly felt relieved when I have been forgiven by others for things I have done), but the truth of the matter is that I do it principally so I don't have to walk around carrying a grudge.

My shoulders are not that broad that I could go around carrying every petty grudge I have against someone, and so call it lax if you must, call it selfish, but I try as much as possible to let things go.

Like I said, we are not called or expected to be door-mats, but neither are we called to be dumping ground.  Just because someone dumps on us doesn't mean we have to take, and it doesn't mean we have to hang on to it.

Try to imagine someone in your life against whom you bear a grudge.  Now try to imagine waking up tomorrow and that grudge is gone.  See how much headspace and heartspace you have just opened up?

Yeah, it's simple.  Why would it need to be any more complicated?

And if God can forgive the sins of an entire world, if Christ could forgive those who betrayed, mocked, scorned, beat, scourged and ultimately executed him...can we not forgive others for their transgressions against us?

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