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Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity

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Jesus told the parable in our Gospel lesson to teach us about the kingdom of heaven. Want to know what’s it’s going to be like? Listen to what Jesus says: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants” (Mt 18:23). Jesus teaches us that the Day of Judgment will come, and when it does, all must stand before him to receive their eternal sentence. The day is coming when the King of kings will settle accounts with every one of his servants. This is clearly taught in the Holy Scriptures. St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor 5:10). Jesus himself says, “Do not fear those who can kill only the body. Fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 10:28b).
It’s very common today for people to believe that hell doesn’t exist. I’m sure you have a friend who believes that when you die, there is just nothing… no accountability for your life, no judgment, no settling of accounts. But this is simply wishful thinking, and it’s wrong. The Scriptures are clear. No one knows the day or hour, but Judgment will come, and then all will stand before Jesus, the Judge and King.
The parable teaches us something else very important, something that gives us a glimpse into the very heart and nature of God. He wants to be merciful. He wants to forgive. He desires that none should perish, but that all would be saved. The king forgave his servant an impossibly large debt, a debt he could never have repaid. He owed 10,000 talents. How much is that? A talent is about $1.4 million in today’s money. How long would it take you to pay back that much money? Now multiply that by 10,000—an astronomical amount.
This man represents you and me, and the impossible debt is our sin. The Bible says that one sin earns us an eternity in hell. So, what does the second and the third sin earn? It reminds me of how some criminals get sentenced to multiple life times in prison. Have you ever wondered about that? How’s a guy supposed to serve three lifetimes? You could say he has an impossible debt. But the point here in this parable is not to focus on our debt of sin. Yes, it is very great. You were born already a sinner, and after birth you racked up sin after sin. All true. But the point here is this: no matter how great your debt of sin, the mercy of God is always greater. No one can out-sin the forgiveness of God. There is no debt so big that he cannot forgive it. And he wants to forgive! This is how God likes to settle accounts. He says to his servants, “Bring in all the sinners so I can forgive every one!”
When the man who owes more than he could ever pay comes before the Lord, he falls down on his knees and begs for mercy, “Be patient with me and I will pay you everything!” If we consider this prayer, we realize that it’s not a very good prayer. “Lord, be patient with me, and I’ll stop sinning! I’ll get my life together and be a good person from now on.” It’s just not true. You won’t stop sinning. You won’t start paying the debt down. Every day that we live on earth it will continue to grow. Do you know what the interest is on $1.4 million times 10,000? It’s about half a million a day. Let me tell you, more time isn’t going to help. It’s only going to get worse.
But guess what? The Lord hears his imperfect prayer, knowing that he will never keep his promises, knowing that he will never even begin to pay it back, and the Lord has mercy on him anyway. This is wonderful news for you and me. God is not waiting for you to say the right words, to pray the perfect prayer. His mercy is just ready to overflow upon us, and at the slightest hint of a repentant heart within us (which is the Holy Spirit’s work) in comes a tidal wave of forgiveness, sweeping away every sin. Did any of you parents ever receive a card from your three-year-old? A hand-draw assortment of scribbles that doesn’t look like anything? This is often what our prayer for mercy looks like to God – far from perfect, perhaps even unintelligible. But God hears this prayer and receives it just as you received that drawing, and then he pours out all his mercy and forgiveness upon us. This is how the Lord settles accounts. It’s what he loves to do, no matter how great the debt.
So if God loves to forgive every debt, does this mean that everyone will go to heaven? Unfortunately, no. The Bible teaches very plainly that many people will refuse God’s mercy. It’s simply too good to be true, and they will not believe it. “It’s a trick! The Lord only says the debt is forgiven because he wants to charge me late payment fees and interest, like the credit card companies. They love it when you’re late. That’s when they make the real money. Of course, I still have to pay everything back. I need to go out and put the first payment together, starting with my buddy who owes me $100.”
And that’s exactly what happened. The man who had already been forgiven everything, went out and started trying to pay the debt that no longer existed. Jesus says, “Those who have been forgiven much will love much.” Had this man been forgiven much? Indeed, he had! But he refused to believe it. In his mind, he hadn’t been forgiven anything. He still owed the whole debt, and because of that, there could be no room for mercy in his heart. He couldn’t afford to love and forgive his brother. Instead, he started choking him, “Pay me what you owe!” And a familiar scene unfolded: His fellow servant fell down on his knees and begged for mercy, but the man refused. Just as he refused to believe the Lord could have forgiven him the great debt, so he refused to forgive his brother a small debt.
The end of the story is sad. The Lord said to him, “You refuse to believe that you debt is gone? You really want to live in a world where there is no forgiveness and no mercy? Then so be it. Your will be done. Live for eternity in that place where the mercy of God cannot be found.” The man was delivered over to the torturer until he should pay all his debt. In other words, he was sent to hell. But this is not what God had in mind for him. As far as God was concerned, the whole debt was already forgiven. Jesus paid for every sin of every person with his blood on the cross. The debt of the entire world has already been erased. But many people will refuse in God’s mercy, and will instead try to pay for their sins on their own.
This parable serves as a warning. Don’t try to pay your debt to God. You can’t. It’s impossible. The interest is piling up faster than you can pay it down. More time would only add more sins to the pile. Instead, cast yourself upon the mercy of God, who loves you so dearly that he sent his beloved Son to die in your place. Trust what your loving heavenly Father tells you in his word: Your debt has been marked PAID IN FULL. Believe that no matter how feeble your prayer is, no matter how imperfect the words, God hears and receives your cry for mercy, just as a parent receives the terrible drawing of a toddler with joy.
God loves to settle the account books by throwing them away. And what do we contribute towards or debt? Nothing. Instead, we believe the words of Jesus on the cross, “It is finished.” Every sin has been paid for. The whole debt is gone. And now, unlike the man in our parable, what are you going to do now that you’ve been forgiven everything? You could start with loving and forgiving your neighbor. This isn’t something you have to do. It’s just what happens when you realize how much God has forgiven you. You can’t help it. Those who have been forgiven much love much. This is what the kingdom of heaven is like. God loves you and has forgiven you everything. And this enables you to love and forgive your neighbor. Amen.
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