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Gottesblog

A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

Be Careful What You Ask For: Thoughts on Trinity 22

In God's kingdom, the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the dead live, the unjust are just and sinners are made saints. The Kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of men. Except, that is, in this parable. For here the evil servant gets his due reward. The servant who was forgiven so much by the compassionate mercy of the king but refused even to consider a small amount of clemency for his fellow servant, that servant gets what's coming to him. He is punished for the injustice of his actions toward his fellowman. The king sends him to prison and to the torture chamber. He must pay. Justice is served. He is condemned.

I find it ironic that our Lord tells Peter to forgive seventy times seven and then tells a parable about king who forgives only once. What's with that? We are to forgive endlessly, but God forgives only once?

This parable, as all parables do, places us right into it. It lays bare our assumptions of what we think is right and wrong, of what we think is just and fair. It serves in much the same way as the story that Nathan tells to David, when Nathan confronts the king with his sin of adultery and murder. We must take sides. It forces to the surface our assumptions and our alliances and allegiance.

Throughout the parable, our allegiance changes. We feel for the first servant, who has so much debt that he has almost no hope of repaying it. We take sides with the servant. And so we rejoice when the king forgives and sets him free. Then, we feel for the second servant, who has little debt and could have repaid it only if he were given a little time to do so. We are outraged that one who has been forgiven so much as the first servant would be so unforgiving and unyielding with one who owed him. We side with the second servant. And we think in our minds and our hearts, just as David did when he heard the story from Nathan, that the wicket servant deserves punishment. And these thoughts are given voice by the other servants who go to the king to tell him of what the wicked servant has done. We don't just judge the wicked servant. We condemn him. We want him to get what is coming to him. We want him to pay for the injustice, for the wrong he has committed.

And the king does just that. He punishes. But more than that, he tortures. The second punishment is far more severe than the first. And that makes us feel good. We are greatly distressed when evil goes unpunished. We are outraged when the guilty get off the hook. Don't do the crime if you can't pay the time, we say. Justice must win the day. And so we pray that God would exact his Justice upon all who do evil. We pray that no clemency be afforded. That the Hitlers, the Bin Ladens, the abortionists alike get their just deserts. We curse them. But it's not just them. It's also those who cut us off in traffic, those who think they're better than us, who by their words and deeds make us feel inferior or treat us with contempt, those who have hurt us in our inmost being, in the most personal of ways. We want them to pay. They must pay. Justice demands it. Our sense of right and wrong demands it.

And that's when we realize that we're in trouble. It is as if Nathan is pointing his finger at us, saying "You are the man." You are the unforgiving servant. For if you had been forgiving, you would not have desired condemnation in your hearts for the wicked servant. You would not have snitched on the unforgiving servant, wishing that the king would exact punishment. You would have forgiven. You would have gone to him, exhorted him to repentance, and brought him back into the community, restored him.

We are the other servants who told on the wicked servant, who refused to forgive and wanted him to get what he deserved. We want justice. We want people to pay for the evil they do, and not just in this life. We want them to pay eternally. We condemn them. And so the Lord says, be careful what you ask for. If it is a God who condemns and only exacts justice for others, you will have a God who condemns and exacts justice also for you. And if that is the sort of king you want that is the sort of king you will have. If that is the kind of God you want, that is the kind of God you will get. For you, too, will pay for all your evil. Be careful what you wish for. Be mindful what you pray for. God is not mocked. Repent. Humble yourself before the king because He, and only He, is the greatest in the kingdom. Do not suppose that you can demand justice for everyone else but yourself. You're not unique. You, too, have been forgiven much. You, too, have received God's compassionate mercy. You have received forgiveness seventy-seven fold.

"For Cain will be avenged seven-fold. But Lamech seventy-seven fold. From Adam, Lamech is the seventh through Cain. Cain’s murder is repeated by Lamech. Lamech knows this and knows that the generations of Cain being free from accounting is over. Lamech’s son, or Lamech himself, will pay the penalty. So Lamech swears that if Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then his is to be seventy-sevenfold! God has mercy and seventy generations later Jesus is born.

"Jesus is born seventy-seven generations from Adam, according to Luke, who unlike Matthew begins with Jesus’ birth. Luke begins with Jesus and moves to God showing Jesus ascension to the right hand of God, to show that Jesus is the answer to all the sins of the generations going back to Adam. Jesus is the answer to Lamech’s fear and is the restitution of Cain’s murder. Jesus is the son of Adam that cannot be killed. He is the Son of God that makes all the sons of men righteous.

"Peter is to forgive his brother by Christ’s forgiveness who is the forgiveness of all men; who is eternal forgiveness"(from Seven, Seventy-seven, and the Christ by Fr. Mark Lovett). Peter is to forgive even as he has been forgiven--seventy-seven fold. And so the the voice that came out of the servants, the voice of condemnation, the voice of revenge and punishment, is replaced with the voice of our Lord, with the Words of our Lord: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." And it is so, because the Word of the Lord does what it says.