Study #1 – The Cross through the lens of Forgiveness & Fairness

Study #1 – The Cross through the lens of Forgiveness & Fairness

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Warm up Questions

  1. Are you giving anything up for Lent?
  • Other than the Bible – what is a story (book, play, movie or game) that has revealed to you a truth that you didn’t know.  (Think beyond a textbook!)

1. Bible Project Video – The Purpose of Parables

Watch Bible Project – Parables:  (5 mins)

Discussion Prompters:

  • A parable is defined as “a story used to illustrate a simple moral or spiritual lesson” but Jon and Tim in the video suggested that “Jesus didn’t tell Parables to make everything clear but rather he wanted to provoke the imagination and invite people to see what God is doing in the world from a new perspective.”  If this message of God’s kingdom is so important … why cloak it with parables?  Why not make it clearer?
  • Tim and Jon talked about the “upside-down values” in Jesus’ parables.  What parables can you immediately think of that portrays an idea which differs from the worlds way of doing things?  (Hint – here is a list of all Jesus Parables –
  • Read John 14:23-26.  How might this parable reflect the message of Lent and Easter?

2. Studying the Text – Is Forgiveness Fair?

Read Matthew 18:21-22

Reflection Questions:

  1. Why do you think that Peter asked how many times you should forgive someone?  Do you ever count?
  2. How many times is Jesus willing to forgive?
  3. What do you do in situations where it hurts too much to forgive? Are there ever situations where forgiveness—either from the individual harmed or from the community—should be withheld?
  4. Do you ever think there are situations where God withholds forgiveness?

Read Matthew 18:23-35 – The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

Reflection Questions:

  1. Who do the servant and king represent? Who do you think you are in this story? What do you think the debt represents?
  2. What do you believe this parable is teaching us about the kingdom of heaven?
  3. What does it mean to forgive “from your heart” (verse 35)?

3. A Different Perspective – The Unforgiving Servant.

Bret S. Myers, in his article “Commentary on a Parable about Forgiveness that Is Unforgiving” wrote:

“This is one of my least favorite passages in the Bible, and perhaps the least favorite as attributed to Jesus … and is completely contrary to what we hear Jesus say in so many other passages … and honestly, one that I have trouble making sense of (other than the point we should forgive others)”

Bret then raises a number of difficulties he has with the passage, such as:

  • The initial meanness of the King.   The king threatened to imprison not only the slave, but also his wife and children – and that ALL of their possessions be taken. That is abominable.  The slave, while bad enough in imprisoning his fellow slave, did not also imprison his family. Two evils don’t make a good, but these evils are not equal.
  • Judging the two situations the same way.  The king most likely would not have been financially hurt by forgiving the debt, even such a large one, but the servant would have little to his name and to forgive the 100 denarii may have caused him much pain – such as not being able to feed his family for the next month.  Is it reasonable to expect the servant to respond in the same way?
  • The fellow servants ratting out the first slave to the king.  They all should have been able to empathize with the slave, rather than taking the view of empire and siding with the king.  So why would Jesus tell the story this way? Jesus has forgiven and healed people who committed all kinds of sins out of compassion for their socio-economic plight; but here, ironically in a story about forgiveness, he portrays others who are in need of compassion having little compassion themselves.
  • The ‘king’ had already forgiven him, and now takes back his forgiveness. We believe that when God forgives us, that forgiveness is everlasting.  Why would Jesus tell a story where the king takes back his forgiveness (and adds extra punishment / torture)

Do you think that these questions/concerns are legitimate?  Helpful?  How do you respond to them … or should we just take focus on the main point of forgiving others and try to not get to caught up with the details of the parable?

4. Studying the Text – Deserving vs Generosity?

Read Matthew 20:1-4 – Hiring Laborers for the Vineyard

  • At this point in the parable, who do you think the landowner represents and who do you think the laborers represent? Does the vineyard represent anything?
  • What was the contract that the laborers and landowner agreed on? At this point, do you think this is a fair contract?

Read Matthew 20:5-8 – More Help Is Needed

  • Why do you think the landowner hired more workers? Why did the landowner not hire everyone he needed at the start of the day?
  • What do you make of the landowner’s question in verse 6? What about the laborers’ response in verse 7?

Read Matthew 20:9-12 – The Laborers Complain

  • How would you feel if you were one of the first workers hired? How would you feel if you were one of the last workers hired?
  • Why do you think the landowner paid everyone the same wage?
  • At this point in the story, do you think the landowner is being fair? Why or why not?

Read Matthew 20:13-16 – The Landowner Responds

  • Now that we have finished the parable, has your answer to the first question about who the landowner and laborers represent changed? Why or why not?
  • Why do you think the landowner referred to one of the laborers as “friend” in verse 13?
  • Read the sidebar labelled “A Shift in Perception.” What do you make of the landowner’s response in light of that information?
  • What do you think this parable is saying about the kingdom of heaven?
  • How do you think this parable links in with the previous parable about forgiveness?

A Shift in Perception

In verse 15, the phrase translated as “Or are you envious because I am generous” in the original Greek literally says, “Is your eye evil because I am good?” While some scholars suggest that this could refer to a superstition about the evil eye, or an eye that looks with malice on others, many believe that the phrase is instead about challenging the workers to see the equal treatment of the landowner to the workers as good. In other words, the landowner is challenging the workers to change their perception of what is good and what is evil.

5. A Different Perspective
(The Laborer’s in the Vineyard) 

Matthew L Skinner, in his article “Justice Comes In The Evening” wrote about this parable: “Our notions of justice usually cannot help but be influenced by our own circumstances and by our opinions about what we and others deserve.”

The complaint of the full-day workers does not seem to be that they were cheated, or even complaining about the generosity of the landowner, but that the generosity was not equal.  Skinner goes on to ponder that the people in Jesus’ time who are often employed last are not necessarily the irresponsible or lazy, but rather the unwanted – the elderly, the weak, infirm, disabled or others who were targets for discrimination.  They also had the same daily needs as other people and maybe this parable was Jesus way of encouraging us to be generous to the poor and outcast.

6. A Response to Consider

Many people choose to “give something up” for Lent, such as chocolate, television, or social media.  The idea is to create a reminder or some extra time during lent to focus on what Jesus’ gave up so that we might have life.  This Lent, would you be open to not just “give something up,” but “take something on.”  Can you support a charity or cause during Lent?  Can you make a commitment to follow up a person you haven’t talked to for a while?  Maybe you can decide to read all the parables of Jesus (using the List in section #1)?  Consider giving up pride or anger – or taking on forgiveness?  Give up inequity to share more equitably? Are you willing to share with the group what you are giving up or what you are taking on?

7. Prayer

Read James 5:16.  Forgiveness is an integral part of love. We find it hard to truly love if we hold resentment or bitterness in our hearts towards others.  Equally, we struggle to be free to love ourselves if we have not forgiven ourselves – if we are carrying disappointment, guilt or anger about ourselves.  Scripture encourages us to receive God’s forgiveness, and to be ready to extend this forgiveness to others, and ourselves.

Have someone in your group read through either the Lord Prayer or the Common Prayer for Forgiveness (or both).  Read the prayer slowly, allowing the group to ponder and personally pray each line in their own minds and hearts.

The Lord’s PrayerThe Common Prayer for Forgiveness
Our Father in heaven, Holy be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from temptation and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever. Amen.Almighty God, our heavenly Father: We have sinned against you, through our own fault, in thought, and word, and deed, and in what we have left undone. For the sake of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, forgive us all our offenses; and grant that we may serve you in newness of life, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

© 2023 Rev Phil Swain.  Turramurra Uniting Church.

Portions of this study are from Spirit and Truth Narrative Lectionary Small Group Guide #1-23 and #1-24. 

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