Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Following Jesus - The Unmerciful Servant/How does our sin compare?

"Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

"The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

"But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.

"His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'

"But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

"Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." Matthew 18:23 - 35

If you are anything like me, you sometimes have an internal dialogue that goes something like this;

"I can't believe she did that! I mean, I know that I do things wrong, too, but that's just nasty. Plus, at least I try to do the right thing. Look at all the people she's hurting! When I mess up, at least the only person I hurt it myself..."

Now, I have to confess, the more I see myself from God's perspective, the less I indulge in conversations like the above. Having a fifteen year old daughter who knows me better than I know myself also helps in this area. The temptation, though, to compare my sin with the sin of others and make sure I come out favorably is strong. It is also one of the things that can make forgiving others more difficult.

Be honest now, doesn't it feel less sinful to cheat the government or McDonald's out of money than it does to cheat your best friend? Isn't it easier to lie to a stranger than to your wife? It is possible to speculate that the unmerciful servant considered his huge debt to an already unspeakably wealthy king as less of a wrong than his friend's small debt to him, someone without wealth. After all, doesn't the king make his money through taxes from the people? The servant's large debt is just a drop in the bucket. $20.00 would really come in handy. Besides, friends pay back friends.

It is clear to all of us that the consequences of different sins vary in severity. I would much rather someone be rude to my daughter than to wound her physically or take her life. The tendency is to judge the wrongness of certain sins according to the severity of the consequences, or potential consequences. This makes sense when it comes to human justice. Jail time for robbing a convenience store should be less than for taking a human life. Society allots punishments according to a standard that is generally agreed on by members of the society. Still, we are prone to desire leniency for ourselves. Harsh drunk driving penalties make perfect sense to the parents of teens learning to drive. For the one who routinely drives drunk, the penalties indicate that someone is making a big deal out of nothing. The drunk driver, though, will agree that first degree murder penalties should be severe.

I believe that it is a part of the sin nature within us all, that we have a blind spot when it comes to our own sin. For most of us, the issues aren't as large as drunk driving verse murder. We struggle with sins that seem smaller, and can lure us into believing that our failure to meet the standard of Jesus is much more benign than it is.

Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin is death. Indulge in sin, and the payment you will receive is spiritual death and destruction. Galatians 5 highlights the acts of the sinful natures, and sins such as hate, jealously, selfish ambition and being drunk keep company with orgies, witchcraft and idolatry. God sees sin differently than we do. Sin destroys. Jesus, in this parable, is equating our sin debt as humongous, while the individual sins that we are asked to forgive in others are small in comparison. I understand that the consequences of the sins committed against us can be devastating. I have found myself, on too many occasions to count, crumpled in a wounded pile because of the sin and betrayal of others. There are sins that could be committed against me that I cannot imagine being able to forgive. I have been left speechless in the face of what people have had to endure because of monstrous, horrific sin. I do not write this lightly. In fact, I write this only because I have complete faith in the wondrous freedom that God offers us when we walk in His ways.

'It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Galatians 5:1

Refusing forgiveness to another means refusing forgiveness for ourselves. We have been set free from our own sin, and it was not so that we could be enslaved to resentment, anger, rage and hatred because of the sins of others! The unmerciful servant was set free from his debt, but he left the castle an enslaved man, and when he met his friend, he behaved as an enslaved man, which led to him becoming, in reality, an enslaved man again.

It may be scary to see ourselves as we truly are, but we must allow Jesus to show us our true selves, from His eyes of love. We will at once be shamed by the reality of our sin debt, and full of joy at the pure, unadulterated love in His eyes as the reality of our canceled debt sinks in. The power of God within us can literally change our anger into love, our pain into something wonderful, our forgiveness into a gift that changes our world.


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