Matthew 18:21-35

the Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester and West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches


Matthew 18:21-35

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. 

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”




A seminary professor of mine once commented on today’s Gospel.

He said, “If you’re doing the math, you haven’t forgiven sufficiently.”

Seven times seventy-seven;

That’s a lot of forgiveness.


Forgiveness is an especially difficult arena for Christians live,

Present company included.

Given the capacity for evil and hurt in our world

Forgiveness may even exceed

Our human capacity.


Not that I’d ever criticize Jesus,

But some parables are easier to interpret than others.

This isn’t one of them.

To get to the point,

- the ultimate Truth Jesus is attempting to communicate -

One has to wade through extreme exaggerations,

Figure out what to do with a bad ending,

And ignore eternal torture.

I’ll chalk today’s parable up to our Lord’s “human nature.”


Jesus opens the dialogue about forgiveness

In three different venues:

Granting forgiveness,

Receiving forgiveness,

And corporate forgiveness.


1. Granting Forgiveness.



It sounds so easy.

As if it were some means of mathematics

some method of mending broken relationships.

“Seven times,” Peter purposely exaggerated.

“Seventy-seven times,” Jesus intentionally did not.


The forgiveness that is easiest

is the forgiveness that is withheld;

our forgiveness

of our perpetrator.

Pride is the only barrier.

Pride falleth the man,

and cause blood to let and flow.

Streets of Gaza,

Schools in Ghana,

Sidewalks in Rochester

run red with blood

channeled only by the pride of arrogance

encouraged by hatred.

“He hurt me first”

“She drew first blood”

“It's a matter of justice,” we cry shaking our fists

as we cite the old eye-for-an-eye saw

knowing full well

an eye for an eye

ignores the command of our Lord

and makes the whole world blind.


Pride is the only barrier.

Pride is the lifeblood of never ending violence.


So sit on it.

Suck it up.

Get over yourself.

Whatever it takes

Discipline your pride.

As Nike would say,


-just do it.


If only it were this easy, we complain.

So this is what we do:

Ask Jesus for humility.

Let him replace the poison within

With acceptance and peace.


2. Seeking Forgiveness


Sometimes we do dumb things.

We say something

Or do something

That we later regret

And wish we could right the wrong

Or turn back the clock and have a do over.


The more difficult path

seeks the forgiveness of the one

against whom

we have sinned.

We are forced to face the fact

of our sin

of our imperfection

that I was wrong

and my sin has hurt another.

“Please forgive me,” can be the hardest words to speak.


For those who dare answer the call

Penance is our staff

sturdy and true.

Humility is our posture

bent and broken.

Love is our strength;

a heart shared by a Savior

who gives us

a desire to no longer live

Obsessed lives, bent and broken.


To seek the forgiveness of another

recognizes the fact that we are not in control.

It is not up to us to loose or bind

to heal or to kill.

It brings us face-to-face

with “the least of these”

with a request for repair

with a cry for mercy

and leaves us with the moist silence

for which there is no cure.


“Please forgive me.”

Then we wait.

We wait for a heart to warm.

Perhaps we wait for our heart to be warmed.


To seek the forgiveness of another

requires us to place our trust in God.

We trust that God will move and shake.

We trust

God will warm

and cause the other’s heart to change.

We trust

God will act

and a mind will be opened to the creative possibility.


When we seek the forgiveness of another

we trust that God will

begin to sew back together

that which was torn.

We know not how God heals

Any more than a physician knows

how a broken or diseased body

is made whole once again.

Of this, we are assured:

God will bring healing

where there was once hurt.

God will bring the sleep of amnesia

and the memory of brokenness will cease to be.


3. Corporate Forgiveness


Some pain and suffering exceeds human capacity for forgiveness.

This is not a free ticket to cheap grace.

Sometimes the cut is so deep,

the hurt so great,

the trauma is so enduring

That even the strongest of us can be overwhelmed.

This is where we expand the context of today’s parable

To the larger passage immediately preceding today’s lesson

With Jesus saying,

“Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20)


When one is left unable to seek or grant forgiveness

Then it is up to the larger community of faith,

Sisters and brothers in Christ,

To become intercessors on our behalf.

When life leaves me without words,

Then I need you to gather and pray on my behalf.


This is why our unison prayers of confession

and the pastor’s words of pardon

Are so essential to worship.

We allow ourselves to become the forgiveness

For which others are thirsting.

That forgiveness doesn’t come from us;

We simply are the conduit for forgiveness

To flow from the cross of Jesus.

The death of Jesus,

Is the price he paid for our sins,

And has become God’s eternal source of forgiveness

Freely and graciously given to all who ask

And to all who ask on behalf of others.



just give it away.

As it has been given to you

just give it away.

With-hold not,

and it will not be withheld.


that God will show us

a new way

to a brand new day.


Forgive us our sins.

Forgive others who have sinned against us.

Become the forgiveness Jesus envisioned.



may it be so.