Pentecost 17, 2023

Forgiveness has been our theme for three weeks now. Sept 10 we heard the first verses of Matthew 18 with the famous formula for restoring a brother. We too often use that as a formula for casting someone out of our fellowships, but the formula is for restoration. Last week (Sept. 17) we heard Jesus link the forgiveness we speak to the forgiveness we receive. They are the same thing. If I would deny forgiveness to my brother, I deny it to myself. This week we get a strong dose of the gracious even scandalous nature of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is always a problem not for the forgiven but for the righteous, for the people who imagine that they are the forgivers or at least the people who should be manning the forgiveness valve which doles out this precious treasure only to the worthy. This theme runs throughout the Gospels. Jesus’ amazing parables of Luke 15 are directed to a group of scribes and pharisees who grumble because Jesus receives sinners and eats with them. The Gospel reading for this Sunday flows in the same stream. The workers in the vineyard somehow believe that their labor is being rewarded and that there is a gradation in the reward. But God is not a capitalist; He is God. His kingdom operates by wholly other principles. We dare not import our ideas to His Kingdom. Forgiveness belongs in the Kingdom of God. The preacher this week will need to realize that most of his parish are the laborers who have been toiling in the heat of the day. They have served on the committees and boards, they have taught Sunday School and baked cookies for the VBS. They have come early to church and stayed late because they have labored for the success of the kingdom. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that we are doing it so that some fool can repent on his deathbed and be given the same heaven we have been promised. Our job will be to make that a little scandalous, or a lot scandalous for our people. Jesus shakes us up.

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