Lent #1 – Parables about Lent
Reading: Matthew 18:15-38
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
We have started the Season of Lent – a season where we turn towards the cross and prepare ourselves to for the Good News of Easter. The narrative Lectionary is guiding us to explore a series of Jesus’ Parables during Lent and we are open to allowing these Parables to reveal a different perspective of the cross and resurrection.
This week we are in Matthew chapter 18 where we will read some parables and teaching around forgiveness. Forgiveness is at the heart of the Easter messages, especially the forgiveness that we find through the cross – but Jesus also challenges us to give as we have received – be people who are not only forgiven but who forgive as well. Our Pastor Phil will help us explore all of this.
Handouts and Extra Material.
- Living the Word – Context and Connections
- Kids Stuff Activity Sheet
Bible Study Material
As we have already acknowledge, welcome to the beginning of Lent. Lent is a time where we intentionally make a little more room in our lives so that we can focus a little more on our relationship with God and prepare for the amazing Good News that comes to us at Easter.
This year we have been following the Narrative Lectionary and I must admit, back in January when I looked up the readings assigned to Lent I was not really excited by them – the Parables of Jesus … for Lent. There is so much action that happens in the lead up to Easter, so many things that Jesus does and so many significant interactions he has with people … and the Narrative Lectionary chooses to do focus on Parables.
But the more I sat with them, and read them, I began to see that this actually is a really great way to approach Lent.
The definition of a Parable is “a story used to illustrate a simple moral or spiritual lesson” but Jesus used Parables in a slightly different way. In a video that I am using as part of the Lenten Bible Studies, the presenter 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.”
In other words, Parables can give us a different perspective on things. So this Lent, we are going to study a number of Jesus’ parables and allow them to reveal a number new or different perspectives on the cross of Jesus and the good news of Easter. After realising this, I am now more excited for our Lent theme of Parable Perspectives!
So let’s jump into our Bible Reading for today.
Do you remember the 5 discourses or sections that Matthew has build his gospel around. During Lent we will be jumping through discourses 4 and 5 – the community discourse about how we as follows of Jesus relate to God and to others – and the Eschatology discourse … about judgement and end times.
Our reading from chapter 18 within the community discourse and starts off with providing some instructions on how to build community and deal with conflict when it arises.
Initially it seems a little weird. If you see a brother or sister sinning, point out their faults and if they don’t listen, have another conversation but this time with back up and if they still don’t listen then excommunicate them.
How does this fit in with the SOTM instructions to not judge others, or the idea of being gracious and welcoming. We will come back to this but I think we need to read these verses in terms of what is before and after it.
Just before our passage today, we have Jesus saying that we need to welcome the little children – to become like a child to enter the kingdom of God. Then warns us that we if cause one of these little ones to stumble it would be better to have millstone hung around our necks and thrown into the see. And this is immediately followed by the parable of the lost sheep and how our Father in Heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish. Three passages highlighting the welcome, acceptance, grace and unconditional love that God has for us.
And then straight after that passage about dealing with sin, we have the Parable of the Unmerciful servant.
Jesus is a master story teller and knows how to draw in a crowd, stir up their emotions and then surprise them with a profound point about life. And this parable is a classic example of this. You can see Jesus starting off – a man was settling accounts with those who had a debt and the first person owed … [dramatic pause] 10,000 talents. The whole crowd would have been shocked. This debt is ridiculously huge – impossible to repay. It would take 10 years for an average person to save up 1 talent … and he owed 10,000 of them. In today’s terms it would be like us owing $5 billion. As I said, impossible to repay.
The crowd leans closer wondering what is going to happen and are stunned when Jesus says, “The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go.” No way. A debt that large … just forgiven. That is incredible.
But that amazement is immediately replaced with anger when Jesus then said that this man who had been forgiven and impossible debt then went out and refused to forgive a smaller debt owed to him.
Jesus noted that the other servants in the parable were outraged … but this was just playing to the crowd … because they would have been outraged too. Clearly this is not right. The king should reinstate the huge debt the man owes.
And then Jesus hits them with his closing line… “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Matt 18:35)
Just in case we missed it … so how does this parable give us a perspective on the good news of Easter? (I know that you all know this but it is good to be reminded)
- We owe God a debt that is impossible to repay.
- God (through Jesus’ death on the cross) completely forgives that debt
- In response we are called to show the same grace and forgiveness that we have received to others.
Happy with that? But lets step through these three points and unpack them a little…
Words like ‘debt’ and ‘payment’ is not the way we would usually speak about the cross but in the first century Jewish context it is how they understood it. Remember a few weeks ago, I explained that Matthew wrote to a Jewish audience and in traditional Hebrew theology, if you sinned against God you were now in God’s debt … and that sin debt needed to be satisfied, or repaid, through an offering at the temple.
But what happens if your sins, or the accumulate sins of the world, are too numerous, too big, too ingrained … that the debt becomes impossible to pay. It is a bit like the 10,000-talent debt of the bloke in the parable. It is impossible to repay. We cannot solve this problem ourselves. There isn’t enough sheep in the world to cover our sins.
But this is where this parable is doing a very subtle point forward to Easter … where Jesus offers to take on our debt and becomes the perfect sacrifice who can satisfy the debt for all the sins of the world.
As Hebrews 10:4 and 10 says, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins … but we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ for all.”
But Jesus takes it a step further. If we have been forgiven … our response should be to also be forgiving people. This idea is all through the Jesus teaching and the Bible:
- In the Lord’s Prayer – “Forgive us our debts as we forgive those who have debts against us” Matthew 6:12
- Freely you have received; freely give. Matthew 10:8
- Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:13
It is a mega-theme within Scripture and is perfectly summed up in today’s parable. While it is never easy to forgive others (and in some circumstances – almost impossible) … the forgiveness that we have received from God is immeasurably greater – and if God is so, so generous with God’s forgiveness … then we should try our hardest to follow that example in the way we relate to each other.
I’m just going to let that sit for a moment, because that is a really important point.
But … if we just have to forgive everyone because God has forgiven us … does that mean that we just condone all actions and behaviour and anything goes? No.
Remember back to our tricky verses at the beginning. If we are living lives that are focused on forgiveness, and welcoming, and inclusion, and making sure we are not making people stumble … then we become a community that wants to help people live in a way that honours God.
And we find that we can in a graceful and non-judgemental way, approach our brothers or sisters who may have drifted a little off-course (a bit like the lost sheep) and encourage them to come back and continue to live in God’s way again. Can you see how these verses make much more sense in the context of the verses around them?
So how do we apply all this to our lives this Lent? To finish, I just wanted to ask whether many of you know much about the Asbury Revival?
On the morning of February 8th at the Asbury University Campus (which is a Methodist Uni in Wilmore, Kentucky) some students were attending the regular ordinary chapel prayer service that became extraordinary.
As one student said, “At the end of service, students were dismissed; but a few students lingered, and we had a really strong sense that we should worship, and the more that we worshipped, we can sense God’s presence”. What happened was a non-stop time of prayer and worship that lasted for over 400 hours … 16 days, only winding up on yesterday morning our time. They estimated that up to 50,000 people came through that prayer service during the 16 days.
There are plenty of different videos on YouTube about this but I have edited down one to give you an idea of what is going on … let’s watch this.
[3 Mins Sojourner Video]
I just wanted to highlight a few things…
I love how the whole movement stirred out of the young adults wanting to be in the presence of God and having an openness to God. It wasn’t planned, structured or driven by the leadership … just a desire to be close to God.
From watching several videos – a key element that has stood out has been this idea of forgiveness. Initially it focused on the confession of personal sin and receiving forgiveness from God.
They were taking James 5:16 literally “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” … and people were confessing sin and asking for prayer … and finding healing.
But as one of the girls in the video that I showed shared, it also lead to forgiving others and to becoming restored in relationship. When we encounter God’s forgiveness in our lives – we find the barriers or disagreements that we have between others not being as important. We find ourselves being stirred to forgive and come together.
We are on this journey through Lent and this first parable has not only reveal to us a powerful perspective of the cross – the forgiveness that is offered to us all – it also has presented us with a challenge … how do we offer this message, this gift of forgiveness to others or in the situations we are involved in.
May we this Lent be like the young people of Asbury and open ourselves up to God, rediscover a hunger to be in God’s presence, lean into God’s gift of forgiveness through the cross and … find healing. Amen.