A list of talking points
2008-09-12 by Bill Carter

Hi everybody - sorry that you haven't heard from me yet! I thought some previous posts went through, but they did not. So let me see if I can recontstruct them!

First: some "talking points" about the text, to draw an analogy from ugly politics: 

  • Is verse 35 necessary?  Sounds like a slip of paper from a fortune cookie.  Even worse, like a moral to the story.  How does the second story sound if we read it without verse 35?
  • It looks like we have two stories about forgiveness within the church. Peter wants to know about fellow church members ("brothers"), and Jesus warns those who will not forgive "brothers" (church members).  How is the church a new community of people who forgive fellow sinners?  What does this look like in practice?
  • If nothing else, these two texts deal with the arithmetic of forgiveness.  (a) Should I forgive seven times (ie. one more time than the rabbis suggested?)  Jesus said, in effect, "Think infinity."  If you're keeping score, you're not forgiving.  (b)  Speaking of infinity, that's about the exact debt that the king canceled.  According to the footnote, 10,000 talents = 150,000 years' wages.  Now, if someone lets you off the hook for that much money, wouldn't you let somebody else off the hook for 20 bucks?  Of course...unless the forgiven slave in this parable is keeping score, desperately wanting every possible asset returned to him.
  • Wait: could a first-century slave ever have owed anybody 150,000 years' wages?  That sounds preposterous.  Even sillier: could a first-century slave ever pay back such a debt, as this slave promises to do (v. 26) ?
  • Did you notice that the second slave uses the first slave's same speech?  (18:26, 29)  This time, however, it doesn't do any good.  Why?
  • What business do the fellow slaves have in a twenty dollar debt between Slave #1 and Slave #2? (18:31)  Isn't this their private business?  Why are the other slaves ratting on Slave #1?  Or to put it another way, why do they hold him accountable within the community?  This is a new kind of discipline, to be sure, a kind of community where somebody's sins are public business.  Apparently, in this community, one's unwillingness to forgive a "brother" is a corporate concern.
  • The problem with forgiveness is that it lets people get away with things. You know what I mean?
  • In the latter story, the king cancels a huge debt . . . then throws the debtor into jail when the debtor refuses to follow the king's example.  Did the king take back the forgiveness he offered?  Or was this the consequence of a forgiven slave who could not receive the forgiveness offered?
  • "Forgive us our debts," we pray with assurance, "as we forgive our debtors."  Can it be that God's forgiveness of us is related somehow to our forgiveness of others?  Are strings attached to divine mercy?  Or is such mercy a role model for how we're supposed to act?
  • When was the last time I let somebody off the hook?  When was the last time somebody let me off the hook?  Should forgiveness become easier and easier the more we do it?  Should it ever be easy?





God's Limited Forgiveness?
2008-09-10 by David von Schlichten

If the king represents God, then the parable could be suggesting that, eventually, we run out of second-chances with God when it comes to forgiveness.

Such may be the case, although God giving up on someone just does not fit God's overall behavior in Scripture. For instance, in the prophets, when God says, in substance, "I'm done with you people," God ends up changing his mind eventually.

So then, maybe there is no such thing as eternal damnation. Perhaps "eternal damnation" is a poetic concept not to be taken literally.

In any case, the point of the parable is that we are to be forgiving of each other just as God has been forgiving of us. God has forgiven our great trespasses against God, so we are to forgive the tiny trespasses against us. If we focus on eschatology, we are missing the point of the parable.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





Hello from your weekly blogger
2008-09-08 by Bill Carter

Hi everybody - I look forward to priming the pump for you this week.

Looks like I'll be focusing on Matthew 18:21-35, which includes the parable of the unforgiving servant. It might also be called the parable of the once-forgiving king who changed his mind. Or even, the king who rescinded his forgiveness and sent a poor sap into the torture chamber.

You may think it's gentler to preach a sermon on unlimited forgiveness ("seven times seventy"). Yet apparently even the king in the parable doesn't follow that approach.

Hmm... what shall we do with this one? Any first thoughts?





Our guest preaching blogger this week is
2008-09-07 by CJ Teets

William G. Carter.

Bill serves as the pastor and head of staff of the First Presbyterian Church of Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania. He is also a highly regarded jazz pianist who frequently weaves his music into his ministry.

Learn more about Bill.





Dean Snyder and Anna Carter Florence
2008-09-05 by David von Schlichten

We are grateful to Dean Snyder for his blog entries this week. Please scroll down to swim around in his thoughts.

A highlight from this week's articles in Lectionary Homiletics is Anna Carter Florence's “Preaching the Lesson” article, in which she argues that most of us, in quoting Jesus' statement about being with us, ignore or miss the context. The context is fighting. The pericope declares that there will always be some sort of fighting loose in the Church, but Christ will be with us anyway.

By the way, I dreamed the other night that Anna Carter Florence and I were working on a project together. Wouldn't that be marvelous?

My sermon is written and will be up shortly in the cafe.

Memorization

I have been experimenting with memorizing passages for Sunday as part of studying them. I find the exercise fun and nourishing. By the way, it's amazing to me how easy it has been to memorize passages.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





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