Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Parables of Jesus: The Gift of Grace

For the past several weeks we have been discussing the Parables of Jesus and how those stories from so long ago still have relevance to us today. The first week we looked at the parable of the Four Soils as we talked about being fertile soil for Christ and some of the aspects of our lives that we can focus on to help ensure that we make ourselves as available and as ready as possible. Last week we looked at the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds and the idea of making our lives fruitful for Christ and how Christ has committed to help us in that endeavor. Today we are going to look at the Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor and see how and why the grace of forgiveness is paramount to our relationship with God.

A story is told of two friends who were walking through the desert. During some point of the journey they had an argument, and one friend slapped the other one in the face. The one who got slapped was hurt, but without saying anything, wrote in the sand, "Today my best friend slapped me in the face."

They kept on walking until they found an oasis, where they decided to take a bath. The one who had been slapped got stuck in the mire and started drowning, but the friend saved him. After he recovered from nearly drowning, he wrote on a stone, "Today my best friend saved my life."

His friend asked him, "After I hurt you, you wrote in the sand and now, you write on a stone, why?" The other friend replied "When someone hurts us we should write it down in sand where winds of forgiveness can erase it away. But, when someone does something good for us, we must engrave it in stone where no wind can ever erase it."
So real forgiveness keeps on leaving the sins of others and our hurts in the past. Yet Jesus understands the difficulty of such forgiveness. To keep on forgiving is a God-like characteristic. It is contrary to human nature. So He gives a parable beginning in verse 23 which will help us obey His commandment to keep on forgiving.

Looking at our parable today we read about a king that bestows grace to one of his servants only to have that servant not reciprocate the favor when given the opportunity. Before the actual parable begins we are presented with a question from Peter to Jesus asking Jesus how often a person should forgive another. This question sets the stage for the entire parable. The oft quoted portion of Scripture comes next with Jesus answering 70 times 7.

Then the actual story begins. A king taking inventory of the debts owed to him calls in a man that owes the king 10,000 talents. So how much is 10,000 talents worth? Most scholars will not assign a specific dollar amount because there is just not enough information to do that accurately. However, those that will, to the best of their abilities, estimate 10,000 talents to roughly be worth about $2.2 billion today. In fact for that time frame 10,000 talents would exceed the taxes for all of Syria, Phoenicia, Judea, and Samaria. The king immediately orders that his all of his possessions, his wife, his children, even the servant himself are to be sold to help pay the debt. The point that Jesus was trying to make with this number was that this was a debt that could never be repaid in any one lifetime. This debt was beyond calculation, beyond repayment. The only options this servant had was forgiveness or prison. Well, the servant pleads with the king for more time and being moved by the passionate plea of the servant the king grants more time. The servant then is released and as he is leaving he confronts a fellow servant that owes him a hundred denarii, again no great consensus on the exact value but probably worth around $5,000. He grabs him by the throat and demands repayment. When this fellow servant makes the same type of passionate plea to his debtor, no grace is given and the first servant orders that his fellow servant be thrown into prison until the debt could be paid. Other servants who witnessed this were very upset by this lack of grace and report the incident to the king. The king promptly calls the unforgiving debtor into his court, rebukes him, and has him thrown into prison till his debt of 10,000 talents is paid. Jesus concludes this parable by telling those listening that if we refuse to forgive our brothers and sisters that God will not forgive us.

You see in this parable God is represented by the king and the debt of 10,000 talents represents sin. We owe God more than we could ever repay in our lifetime. We can never “work off” our debt of sin. Therefore we need grace, God's grace. When the first servant then does not forgive as he was forgiven, we are told that God's own forgiveness is then invalidated. We must forgive others in order to have God forgive us. Now the point can be made that God's forgiveness is never really taken back because if we truly, if we truly forgive as God calls us to do, then this will not be an issue for us. But the principle remains...we must forgive. We must extend the gift of grace to those we encounter. And one aspect of grace is forgiveness. The king we read about today extended grace to the first servant and forgave his debt. But you see it would take us weeks or even months to fully dissect what all grace entails so today we will focus on the aspect of forgiveness. So what is forgiveness? Well, forgiveness is basically pardoning someone from some debt or offense with no desire for punishment or restitution.

So I ask again this week...what does this parable mean for us today? I think it means a few things.

To begin with the parable points out to us that we should forgive because God first forgave us. Look back at Jesus when he was dying on the cross. What words does he utter to his Heavenly Father, concerning those that are crucifying him, before he dies? “Father please forgive them for they know not what they do.” He was asking God to forgive the people that were killing him, that were causing him to endure this indescribable torture. If Christ can ask for forgiveness for those that were inflicting this incredible pain on him, how can we not ask for forgiveness for those that commit much lesser acts against us. Christ was completely innocent of any wrong doing, willingly endured this pain, and then asked God to forgive those responsible. All of this was done not just as a model of forgiveness for us, but done out of of pure, agape love for us. To forgive us of our sins. Jesus' purpose on Earth was about love and one way to express that love and show that love and grace to others was though forgiveness. And Jesus modeled that for us time and time again even unto his painful death. We should forgive because God first forgave us and forgave us a debt that we can never repay. Forgave us a debt that cost Him the life of his only Son.

This parable also teaches us that we should show others grace and forgiveness because that is how we can allow God into our heart. As Christians we are called to spread not only the Good News to the four corners of the Earth but the love of God, the love of Christ as well. And in order to do that we need the help, the equipping of God. The way God helps us, guides us, equips us, is by dwelling within, by taking up residence in our hearts, our very souls. Now in order for God to do this we must make ourselves a worthy sanctuary and that means that we strive to make ourselves a people of love and of grace. Resentment, hatred, anger, those are all results of unforgiveness. And when we allow those attributes to grow within our hearts then we are not allowing God to dwell within us. We are taking God out of our lives for a time. However, if we can practice grace and practice forgiveness then not only are we inviting God into our lives and our hearts, but we are giving God and the Holy Spirit a place to work. We allow ourselves to become tools that can be used to bring God glory and to show other people that God is out there, that is concerned about people, and the God is crazy about us. The joy that comes from extending grace and forgiveness and allowing God into our lives, into our hearts, is a joy that it is indescribable. It is a joy that far surpasses anything we can muster on our own or anything that this world has ever created.

Another lesson we can learn from this parable is that if can remember that God first forgave us and allow God to dwell within us by having a loving heart, then the act of forgiveness will become part of our nature. If we remember that God first forgave us, make ourselves a worthy sanctuary for God, then grace and forgiveness will become a part of who we are. By itself forgiveness is hard. At some times it is even undeserved. But neither of those will be an issue for us if forgiveness is part of our nature. If grace is a part of our very essence.

The king in our parable forgave the servant a debt so large that it could never be repaid in his lifetime. God forgave us of our sin, a debt that we could never repay in our lifetime. God created us to be in relationship with us. God created us knowing that it would cost God the life of God's only son. That right there proves how much God loves us. The sacrifice that was made on our behalf will never be repaid. But God wants so much to be a part of our lives that he had Jesus sacrifice himself on the cross so that relationship with us could be a reality. God first forgave us, we do not deserve it, we can never repay it, but God did it anyway. That model of forgiveness should be something that we all strive to emulate to others. God first forgave us, if we follow suit God will live within us and give us joy not of this world, and as such forgiveness will then become a very part of who we are.

Grace is a gift from God. Part of grace is that forgiveness of our sin, of our debt, so that we can be restored to a right relationship with God. A relationship with God that cannot be earned, a relationship that is given. Just as that first servant could never repay that 10,000 talent debt, we can never, on our own, repay our debt of sin...it took the sacrifice of Christ. And just as it can never be repaid, it can never be earned. Listen again, it can never be earned.

My challenge for you this week is to look for an opportunity to extend grace to another person. Look for an opportunity to forgive another person. Then do it. Pray about it and do it and see how God works though you in that situation.

That grace from God, that gift of salvation is a gift freely given. We have to make the decision to accept it. And once accepted we will never be the same, we will never treat others the same, and we can begin to give that gift of grace to others. That gift of undeserved grace just as it was first given to us.

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