There are so many disturbing questions to choose from.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 18:21-35
For Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011 Year A—Ordinary 24
Let’s be honest. The hardest thing about deciding what the hardest question is about Matthew 18:21-35 is that there are so many disturbing questions to choose from.
That’s a Lot!
How many times must I forgive? Peter comes to Jesus with a complaint we’ve all had: someone at church is being an ass. It happens. So, how many times shall we forgive the whiner, the gossip, the embezzler, the adulterer, the woman who doesn’t recycle? Seven seems a lofty number. What do you think Jesus? Seven times? And of course without blinking an eye Jesus says, “Seventy-seven!”
Seventy-seven times we are to forgive. That’s a lot of forgiveness. But the little Kingdom of Heaven parable that follows doesn’t feel like it’s about forgiving seventy-seven times. Which brings us to the…
Candidates for Most Disturbing Question:
#1 If the king represents God then is it true that, like the king, God’s first instinct is to sell us off to another (king?, God?) if we cannot pay God back?
#2 If so, then can we really talk the God of the universe out of this by making some kind of flimsy promise to be good?
#3 If this is a parable about forgiving people ”77″ times, then why is it that the King only forgave the slave once then the next time he slipped up the King sent him off to be tortured? That feels like it’s about “76″ short of what Jesus is telling us to do.
#4 Seriously? God will hand us over to be tortured if we too do not also forgive those who sin against us? And not only that—we have to forgive them from the heart.
What’s Really Hard
Any of the above would be great candidates for most disturbing question for this text. But this isn’t “The Most Disturbing Question” blog. It’s “The Hardest Question.” And when it comes down to it none of these is the hardest question, these are red herrings—ways to distract ourselves from what’s really hard here. And what’s really hard is forgiving people who have sinned against us. What’s really hard is to know what to do when out hearts are filled not with forgiveness and mercy but with rage.
On this, the 10th anniversary of September 11—something that for many marks us Americans as people who have been sinned against in a profound and unforgettable way—a text on forgiveness, the likes of which we have here in Matthew 18, might be the perfect opportunity to speak a little truth about what is really in our hearts.
The Hardest Question
The hardest question is this: From where will we attain this forgiveness for those who have caused us harm? I’ll tell you one thing for sure. It ain’t in my heart. No sir. It’s kinda dark in there.
Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber is the founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. She is the author of Salvation on the Small Screen? 24 Hours of Christian Television (Seabury, 2008) and blogs at www.sarcasticlutheran.com and Jim Wallis’ www.GodsPolitics.com. Nobody really believes she’s an ordained pastor in the ELCA. Maybe it’s the sleeve tattoos or the fact that she swears like a truck driver. Either way…she’s fine with it. Nadia lives in Denver with her family of four.