Hello and welcome to Wednesday’s podcast, I’m Bryony and today we are carrying on from where we left off yesterday in Matthew 18. Today’s passage verses 15-35 contain some of Jesus’ key teaching on conflict resolution, reconciliation and forgiveness.
On Monday we talked about ‘the power of faith’, yesterday we looked at ‘the power of position’ and today we are going to consider ‘The Power of Forgiveness’.
In my final year of University I studied at a film school in Finland. The aim was to come home having produced a short film. For our film we needed some shots in cellar, we went all out Scandi thriller! We found a cellar that worked and spent several long days filming down there. As will most things in Finland it was pretty clean other than getting a bit dusty I wouldn’t have described it at dirty. However I was pretty shocked when I got home from the first day’s shoot, I sneezed and realised that the tissue was covered in soot, the same happened when I coughed. We realised that those little particles had been in the air all day and though they weren’t noticeable to us they had infiltrated our air ways. I had a similar issue on the London underground but that can wait for another day!
Unforgiveness is pervasive. Unforgiveness is not just an attitude it ends up being the very air we breathe. We might think we’re not holding of someone in unforgiveness but then another situation causes us to see that the bitterness is still there, we cough and the tissue is covered in soot. But joy of joys forgiveness can also be the air we breathe, forgiveness can be pervasive, it can reach all the places in our hearts and the world where we would never expect forgiveness to reach.
I love the way that Jesus calls the church to be modellers of the power of forgiveness. And goodness doesn’t the world need it. The racial tensions of 2020 have shown us the deep need in the world AND in the church for reconciliation to be taken seriously, for as the prophet Amos said for ‘justice to flow like rivers’. As the world stands more divided than ever, the church is being called to keep living out the kingdom values and solutions.
So what’s Jesus’ solution here. Well in this passage we see Jesus explaining the specifics of forgiveness and then he tells a parable to show the overarching principle.
In verse 15-20 he instructs believers to deal with issues quickly and privately. This is the classic passage that anyone who says I need to do ‘matthew 18 with you’ is referring to. If anyone says that to you, run! I’m joking! Jesus says if we need to address a sin with someone, there’s a need to challenge someone we are first off to do that one to one. Let’s just think about how radical that is for a minute. When was the last time you knew you needed to address something with someone and without delay you went and sought them out? I mean I think for most of us the story would go more like…we need to address something, firstly ignore said issue, maybe someone else will deal with it, stew for at least two day, talked to a couple of people about your frustration, write passive aggressive email and or text message, don’t press send, save to draft, reread, stew some more. Decide that maybe you don’t need to address it, stew in your own resentment and bitterness for 4 years. Ok that sounds dramatic but seriously, is this only me?! Jesus says go, just go. Go and speak to the person and what’s more do it between the two of you.
I went to a great communications class led by a guy called Paul Scanlon who is a speaker and used to lead a church in Bradford. He was sharing the worst mistakes he’d made while speaking, which first off was a very brave and inspiring thing to do. One of his points was ‘ranting at a few I have a problem with but making everyone listen’ – he spoke about how rather than deal with issues face to face he would weave his individual rebuke into public talks. What struck me when I heard this was how this is the way the whole world operates! From personal facebook pages to politicians backstabbing their colleagues on breakfast Tv the way we deal with issues is to go straight to the public flogging or the more passive aggressive tactic of writing a facebook post aimed at a particular person’s behaviour without ever naming them, because you know, that would be unchristian right?!
Again Jesus says no, go to that person speak to them. He then get us to bring others along if this strategy doesn’t work but the focus of that is always reconciliation not humiliation or group pressure The end goal is that all parties can stand forgiven and accepted so that they will be able to gather in one spirit together because (verse 20) ‘for when two or three gather in my name, there am I with them’. The aim is to create an environment where God can dwell, a place where no resentments are simmering, where everythings is out in the light.
Jesus finished by answering Peter’s question about how many times we should forgive, with a story about a servant who is let off a huge debt only to treat one of his own debtors cruelly. Jesus doesn’t leave us to work out this parable on our own rather he says “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Forgiveness flows from forgiveness. We seek reconciliation, we forgive others because we are recipients of God undeserved, gracious forgiveness. Our lungs have been cleared out by the grace of God so that we can breathe out forgiveness and love to others, if we stay in the cellar and let unforgiveness take roots we are replacing God’s life-giving breath with soot.
Today let’s take a few moments to ask for forgiveness ourselves, let acknowledge how much we are in dire need of God’s forgiveness even in the last hour. Then let’s resolve to search out hearts for where bitterness has taken root and when we are holding on to unforgiveness and let’s choose to be reconciled and made right with one another.
Jesus thank you for the gift of forgiveness, we don’t fully understand it but we know that we need it. Help us to accept your forgiveness and then to show it to others. We repent today of the ways we have not gone quickly and privately to deal with things, please help us be a church that models the pursuit of reconciliation both in our church family and the world.
BIBLE READING: Matthew 18:15-35
‘If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
‘Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
‘Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.’
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’
Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
‘Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
‘At this the servant fell on his knees before him. “Be patient with me,” he begged, “and I will pay back everything.” The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go.
‘But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. “Pay back what you owe me!” he demanded.
‘His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, “Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.”
‘But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
‘Then the master called the servant in. “You wicked servant,” he said, “I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
‘This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’