Matthew 18 is a complex chapter. It begins with a question from the disciples about who is the greatest. The way of Jesus is the way of the cross, it is the way of humility, and placing others above self. There is no place for those seeking glory or personal greatness. The disciples question to Jesus is out of line. Jesus reminds them that humility is what makes someone great. They have been called to a life of cruciformity defined by service and love toward others. What is important is not getting your way, but instead acting like Jesus, taking up the cross for others, and doing what we can to help others experience the Kingdom.
Jesus then goes on to describe the seriousness of sin. Sin is reprehensible and causing someone else to sin is abhorrent. If something is causing you to sin you must cut it off and throw it away. Jesus may have been speaking in hyperbole, yet he still was encouraging his hearers to do anything possible to get rid of sin from your life. You are living a life of cruciformity, you have died to self. Following Jesus means living without sin.
God hates sin. Often our discussions of grace make us treat sin with kid gloves. We almost excuse it or act as if it’s no big deal. But sin is against the way of God and it should be avoided at all costs.
The parable of the lost sheep must be understood out of this context. God hates sin, yet, when someone sins God searches after the sinner just like a shepherd searches after sheep. Grace can only be understood in light of the seriousness of sin. Even though God hates our sin, when we sin, God searches after us and forgives us.
Which leads into a discussion of what we should do when someone sins against us. When we are wronged we want to hold a grudge and be angry because we have been hurt by another. It is difficult to forgive when the pain runs so deep. Yet the way of Jesus is the way of cruciformity. It is the way of recognizing that we have died to self, and that our calling is to humble ourselves so that others can see the kingdom. We are called to follow in the way of Jesus who took the form of suffering servant for the good of all of creation. This means that we are willing to forgive, even when we have every right to hold a grudge.
This point is illustrated in the parable of the unmerciful servant. A king is settling accounts and calls in a servant who owes 10,000 talents. In our day this would be a debt in the billions. It is literally the largest sum of money that was possible to portray. The debt is astronomical, there is no way the servant can repay it. The servant does the only thing he can, he begs for forgiveness and the king grants it. However, upon heading out, the forgiven servant sees another servant who owes him 100 denarii, one hundred days wages, a small sum compared to what he owed the king, but not a minor amount. It would be a third of one’s yearly wages. The forgiven servant sees this other servant and demands repayment. When the servant begs for forgiveness, the forgiven servant refuses and throws him in prison. Once his deeds are discovered, the king calls the forgiven servant back in, questions his actions, holds him accountable, and has the forgiven servant thrown in prison until he can pay the entire amount. Those who have been forgiven must learn to forgive others.
Forgiveness is hard. We all find reasons not to forgive. We make excuses of why someone does not deserve forgiveness, or we forgive but we hold those sins against them for an extended period of time. Jesus is calling us to a deeper forgiveness. Jesus is calling us to the way of the cross. Jesus is calling us to humility, to take a position where we place the needs of others above ourselves. We have all been forgiven, no matter how hard it is, we must seek to forgive others.
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant is about the cruciform life. Only a life that is willing to die to self and live for God is able to extend this type of forgiveness. Only a life that recognizes the amount of grace God has been given and out of thanksgiving is willing to commit to the same lifestyle is able to forgive in this way. Forgiveness is recognizing that we have been called into a way of life that models the life of Jesus; one who humbles himself for the benefit of others.