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“Business as Usual” 16th Sunday After Pentecost - September 10, 2023



Wow.


Let’s just name it from the beginning shall we… This is a tough parable.

It’s one of those when the Deacon – after reading the gospel text – raises the gospel book, says, “The Gospel of the Lord!” and there’s a part of me that wants to respond,

“Ummmm Praise to you Lord Christ? I guess…??”


It’s that last verse, isn’t it…?? Jesus saying something along the lines of, “Just as the king turned over the servant to be tortured, so my Heavenly Father will do to you (if you don’t forgive)….”


Geeze. Harsh, right?? Tortured? Well, how about we look at that – and move backwards in the reading. If we do, I think two things might happen. One, we’ll see that word – and this image Jesus is creating – in its proper context. And two, far from softening the word – it will place us in a position of responsibility – we might feel the gravity of its importance.


Sometimes a little Greek, goes a long way. That word…is from a phrase meaning to “to torment.” That same term is used to describe a person suffering terrible anguish in Matthew chapter 8, it is used to describe a man in agony in Luke chapter 16, and in Peter’s Second Letter it used to describe Lot, from the Old Testament, who’s “righteous soul was tormented day after day…” Pain, agony, torment….


What Jesus is saying here is the one who harbors grudges, bitterness, unforgiveness – will be turned over to their own torturous thoughts, their own feelings of agony, and restlessness. This is not a picture of eternal punishment being dished out by an angry God. This is Jesus teaching a hard lesson about forgiveness to his disciples.


If we’re going to be part of God’s reign in this world, if we want to have a Christ-centered, abundant life, we’re going to have to forgive. Because if we don’t, it’ll lead to misery, and we’ll miss the life intended for us if we choose our own misery over forgiveness.


You sense the gravity? We actually have to change the way we live sometimes. We actually have to follow Jesus. Which can be tough and scary, especially if we’ve been hurt or angry for years…It’s a hard calling sometimes. But, I think, one of the reasons we’re seeing so many people leave the Church and a younger generation not see a purpose for it in their lives – why it doesn’t make sense to them. Is because they see it for what it’s become. How it’s a culture where we get to call ourselves Christian and never be a disciple of Jesus. So, I can go to church, sing my songs, raise my hands, recite my prayers, take communion, walk out the doors but where I bow down the other six days of the week is at the altar of my own prejudice, or anger, or bitterness, or unforgiveness.


But…I’m not despondent, I am not without hope, and I don’t we should be either…because I see that generational exodus from “church life” as a kind of gift - as an eye-opening invitation and a challenge - to re-center, to re-connect, to re-tell stories Jesus told….like this one.


…It’s not about a poor farmer (which is often assumed) and it’s not about a menial servant (which is also sometimes assumed). The man at the center of this story – he’s a middle manager – he’s a man who plays his often cut-throat role in perpetuating the system of financial patronage, loans, debts, and collections for his ruler, to who he is in some way indebted. It’s a well-oiled, competitive machine AND if he doesn’t act shrewdly, or even selfishly, he could lose his place. That’s how it was – from the ruler all the way down. That was just business as usual. Everyone committed to their role – no matter the cost. This is not the world of the poor Galilean that Jesus grew up around, but it was a world they were familiar with – a world that crept into their own all too often.


Which is one of the fascinating things about Jesus’ stories…the challenge, the change, the transformation doesn’t come inside the temple or the synagogue, it rarely occurs within a “religious” setting…it happens at work…in the home…in the neighborhood – in the daily grind of people’s lives and in their messy relationships.


Our ambitious – once employee of the month – office manager owed his boss quite a sum of cash. So much so he’s on the verge of being dealt quite a sentence – which by the standards of the time, this wealthy ruler would have the right to dish out. But something happens, in the wake of this debtor’s groveling. The man is moved with “pity” is the word. In the original language, he felt moved in his innards – which to the Hebrew mind was where compassion lived – in our guts. I’d like to think it still is. The gutsiest people I know tend to be the most compassionate people I know. Moved by compassion, he not only cancels his debt, but he also interrupts the whole crooked system. The old patriarch, in a phrase, dies to himself and his way of being – no more punishment, no more tying heavy burdens to people and tossing them into the sea of obligation. There’s a real chance