Facing the Tormentors

Matthew 18:21-35

The kingdom of heaven is like a king who forgave a servant because he pitied the man’s inability to pay an insurmountable debt.  In Martin Luther’s sermon on this text, he said to be in the kingdom of heaven, we must do as the king does. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king…who forgave his servant’s gargantuan debt.” In today’s dollars, the king forgave over $1.5 billion dollars.

If we live according to the kingdom of the world, which is an unforgiving place, we cannot receive the advantages of the kingdom of God. To forgive is to know peace. To forgive is to set yourself free from the burden of your own expectations of others.

    The part about this text that concerned me was when Jesus said the king can become very angry at the unforgiving servant, to the point of turning him over to “be tortured.” Actually, that’s an interpretation more than a translation. The Greek says he turned the servant over to the “tormentors.” This makes more sense to me.

Who are the tormentors? Maybe they are the little voices in my head that bother me and bring unpeace because I expect more from people than they can give me. Tormentors compare what I’ve done to what others have or haven’t done. Tormentors measure things in terms of fairness and unfairness. Tormentors place expectations on the actions of others by the standards I set. Tormentors always add the “inconvenience factor” to the scales of balancing out damages inflicted or losses suffered. Tormentors expect equal compensation for any wrong, harm, or damage someone has done to me. Only when equal compensation is made can I say justice has been met.

Except when equal compensation is made, then there’s no need for forgiveness. Forgiveness is about grace, not restitution. And grace is what finally brings peace, love, joy. Unforgiveness brings unpeace, anger, feelings of having been treated unjustly. Grace is about letting go of the need to receive justice, yet religion defines God in terms of compensating God with a sacrifice (doesn’t matter that it’s a son of God). This makes God just. It wasn’t grace on God’s part if the Almighty needed any form of  payment. Still, the tormentors that need justice go to work on your blood pressure, your arteriosclerotic buildup, your immune system, your physical health.

The magic words, “I ask Jesus to come into my life” is still human compensation to qualify for God’s forgiveness. Yet, the kingdom of heaven comes to all who forgive their brothers and sisters from their heart, because this brings peace and love and joy.

In his sermon, Luther said these things:

–  The way we pay God is in praise, thanksgiving, and doing as God has done, which is showing love for our neighbor.

–  The kingdom of God is nothing else than a state in which there is nothing but forgiveness of sin. Wherever there is no forgiveness, there is no kingdom of God.

–  Justice is shown when there is payment of debt; mercy is shown when no payment can be made.

Do we have a just God or a merciful God? Civil authorities and the world demand justice, which is eye for eye, tooth for tooth, dollar for dollar, confession for salvation. God shows mercy and does not require payment, even of the most god-awful debt, ten thousand talents.

Although God has been merciful to us, are there any expectations? Only if you think God hasn’t forgiven your debt.  The way we give thanks for God’s gracious act of forgiveness is to duplicate what God has done for us. Forgive. Let go of what we think people owe us. The kingdom of heaven is not about justice. If it were, we’d be toast. The kingdom of man is about justice. The kingdom of heaven is about mercy.

Why would God forgive us that much debt, anyway?

Can you love someone you think owes you $1.5 billion dollars or visa versa? What kind of “relationship” can you have with someone you’ve taken to the cleaners?

Humans will always think they have to do something to pay God back. That’s living in the kingdom of man, a mindset that demands justice and thinking you should only what you deserve, i.e., no free lunch. Because we can’t shake that mentality, we need to take a different approach to paying God back.

Maybe it would help to take this approach: the Bible says God is in our neighbor, which includes the poor, hungry, sick, and outcasts. Paying God back for our sin would be to help them – to restore them to health and wholeness of being. Let’s build fewer bombers and increase the numbers of low income housing. With a 1.1 trillion dollar war and defense spending (which is 3 billion dollars a day), with some reappropriations, we could afford to do the right thing by helping some people who can’t help themselves. Let’s pay for low income students to go to college so they have a chance to earn a decent wage. There are lots of ways to help the poor.

Maybe then, we’d experience God who is also in them forgiving us for the injustice we’ve shown in using the advantages we’ve been given, and for condemning them for their lack of initiative. Luther said “As God has loved us, we should love God through our neighbor.” This is a prominent theme in his sermons.

Can you really love someone who owes you a significant debt? We can only love our neighbor when he/she doesn’t owe us anything. To forgive is to let go of anything we think they may owe us. Forgive them every debt.

Or face the tormentors and the inner turmoil they bring.

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