Do Justice, Love Kindness
November 11, 2017
Verse: Matthew 18:27
Christ Lutheran Church
November 12, 2017
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras
Do Justice, Love Kindness
Out of pity the master of that servant released him, and canceled the debt. Matthew 18:27
It is tempting to hear the Lord’s parable as nothing more than a morality tale, but it’s a great deal more than that!
Today’s gospel is a parable of the Kingdom, which is another way of saying, a parable of the church! And by church we don’t mean the organizational flow chart, or membership list, but the assembly of the baptized gathered in Holy Communion with their God. The thing that we are engaged in at this very time. This is the church, and the parable is for us, and so now let us learn what it has to teach.
The first thing you need to know is that you are servant in the parable, and the time for judgment is come. You are in way over your head! Not only with Visa and Master Card but with your God! Your sins have reached up to heaven. The bigger ones are obvious because of the unhappy chain of events that follow close behind. Your nasty temper, biting words and bumptious attitude. Your laziness and lack of self-control. But there are secret sins, too. Unclean thoughts and desires, self-pity, self-righteousness and the stubborn refusal to be reconcile with those who desire to be at peace with you. The sum total of your sins constitutes a debt to God that you can never pay! And that means only one thing: divine retribution. The misery and sorrow the Wicked Servant was awarded by his refusal to forgive!
The servant in the parable lived too large, for too long. He borrowed against the future, and when it came time to pay what he owed he was fresh out of luck. But he loved himself too much to surrender. He loved his life, his wife, his children and all that he had amassed. And now when it came time to settle up, he did not want to lose it.
As so he plays the only card he has: he falls down in deep humility before his master and pleads for more time, promising to pay back every penny, though everyone knows it is impossible. But he’s a business man, and negotiation is what he does.
But his master does not negotiate, but does something entirely unexpected! Something that no master ever did! He forgives the debt, frees the servant, and sends him on his way!
You are the servant in the parable! Your debt is discharged! Not because you can ever atone for your sins, you can’t! Learn that well. But because the Teller of the parable atoned for you. Not with “gold or silver,” as we learn in the catechism, “but with his holy precious blood, and with his innocent suffering and death. That I may be his own, and live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness. Even as he is risen from the dead, lives and reigns eternally. This is most certainly true.”
Glory be to God on High!
But the parable doesn’t end here, but takes a turn for the worse instead. The one who received mercy did not pay it forward! Did not extend mercy to his debtors, and that, according to the parable, is fatal! He who was forgiven much, was not willing to forgive little to his fellow servant; but exacted full punishment from him, instead. What a mistake!
It’s at this juncture that we read these most interesting words: “When his fellow servants saw what had taken place they were deeply distressed.”
What distressed them so?
The injustice of it all! Because it is incumbent on all who have obtained remission of sins in Christ, to extend the same mercy to others! To be as forbearing with them, as your God is with you! Whatever debt your brother owes you, yours to God was infinitely larger. But your sins are remitted. “Go, and do likewise!”
Not only do we learn this all-important lesson from the parable, but from the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray as well, “forgives us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Did the Lord mean to set such a trap for us? Whether he did or did not, the point is clear! That our duty to reconcile with one another, wherever and whenever we can, is never over; and that can be distressing! But there is no other way for the baptized to live!
In marriage this forgiveness is vital. There is no more important virtue between husband and wife than to forgive one another, as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32). And what goes for the home, goes for the church as well.
We said earlier that this parable is not a standalone morality tale, but a parable of the church. A parable to be spoken in the church, by the church and to the church, and which finds its fulfillment at the rail!
After the consecration, when celebrant says, “The peace of the Lord be with you always,” that is but a remnant of an earlier, and much more elaborate, liturgical gesture called, “the kiss of peace.”
From earliest times the distribution was preceded by this kiss. Those in the congregation would embrace, and kiss one another on the cheek, to demonstrate that they were reconciled with one another. That there was no anger or hatred at the holy altar of God. But only unity and blessed peace!
In our liturgy the practice has been reduced to a verbal exchange. In some places its current iteration is “the handshake of peace.” And that, too, works as long as we understand what we are doing. The “handshake of peace” is not a social gesture, but a high Eucharistic moment, when the church puts this parable of the kingdom into practice. As each communicant extends to the other the remission that he himself here receives.
And what we do in the church, as we have already said, but say again, let us also do in the home! Which St. John Chrysostom calls, “the little church.” Because to do so is to bless God for his mercy, and to fulfill the words of our Old Testament lesson: To do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. Amen.