Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.
"Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, 'Pay what you owe.' So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart."(ESV)
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Life in Living Waters
Tuesday of Advent 1
1 December 2015
Baptism is the beginning and the sustenance of the Christian life. The life-giving waters of the font tell us who we are in relation to Christ and over against the world. So as we go into the daily life of the Christian today, we should ask how we can live as the baptized. We should not merely "do good," but find our reason for service in the baptismal waters. We have every reason to do good and to serve. We owe our neighbor well-doing in the kingdom of the left; the kingdom of this world. We owe baptismally-shaped service in the kingdom of the right. We approach life with our neighbor's need in mind and the power of baptism to serve in our hearts. What God has given us shows the way to live the life which is ours in the power of baptism. In this sense, Christians are not merely do-gooders, but servants of the gospel.
In the parable of the unrighteous servant, Jesus highlights the enormous patience and mercy of God when the king remits the debt of the servant (Mt 18:23-35
). The servant owes a price that he never could pay, no matter how long nor how hard he would have worked at it. He is quite foolish on top of all by contending that he could pay back everything he owed. Such is the ignorance of human depravity.
In the face of such a burden being freely forgiven by the king, the unrighteous servant shakes down his fellow servant who owes him only a little. He clearly has no idea what forgiveness is or what it means. We live this way when we walk away from the gift showered down on us at the baptismal font, which provides a washing for forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38
), when we hold grudges against our Christian brother who owes us very little in comparison to the debt we owe to the King, our God, and which we could never have paid off in a thousand lifetimes. How could we be so perverse as to shake down our fellow servant in the face of our being freely forgiven by the King? Is it equally clear that we have no idea what forgiveness means? Have we navigated so far from the font that it is no longer the medium in which we live? Have we become a fish out of water?
When called on to overlook the festering wounds of a neighbor's sin, let us look to our own scars now healed by the cleansing waters of baptism. These were far worse! How can we pick at and open the wounds of those who have sinned against us in return for the healing we have received by an all-gracious God? Some years ago, I suffered the first of a series of migraine headaches probably triggered by stress. I now seldom experience those headaches, thanks to God, but the experience has given me much greater understanding and sympathy for those who do suffer them. So it is, that we who have been healed from our sin by the soothing waters of baptism, will now treat with greater patience and humility those who have fallen into shame and vice. For we are no different from them except by God's grace, which is not our own doing, any more than when we take antibiotics for an infection it is our own achievement to become well. When we calculate the debt owed by our neighbor for his sin against us, we cannot but remember that an enormous debt has been lifted from us by the grace of our King. How then could we require it of our neighbor? What right of demand could we possibly demonstrate, we who stand in the cleansing baptismal stream? We live in the waters of life. Every day.
"Jump at the blessing of baptism. Begin the struggle of a twofold conflict. First, prepare yourself for baptism by purifying yourself. Second, preserve the baptismal gift. For it is a matter of equal difficulty to obtain a blessing which we don't have and to keep it when we have received it. Often what zeal has acquired sloth can destroy and what hesitation has lost diligence regains. A great assistance to the attainment of what you desire are vigils, fasts, sleeping on the ground, prayers, tears, pity of and almsgiving to those who are in need. And let these be your thanksgiving for what you have received....
"Does a poor man approach you? Remember how poor you once were, and how rich you were made. If another Lazarus (Lk 16:19
), in need of food or drink, is laid at your gate; respect the sacramental Table which you have approached, the bread which you have partaken, the cup in which you have communed, since they are consecrated by the sufferings of Christ. If a stranger falls at your feet, homeless and a foreigner, welcome in him the One who for your sake was a stranger, and that among His own (Jn 1:11
), who came to dwell in you by His grace (Eph 3:17
), and who drew you toward the heavenly dwelling place (Jn 6:44
). Be a Zaccheus (Lk 19:1
), who yesterday was a tax collector and is today a generous man; offer all to the advent of Christ, that though small in bodily stature you may show yourself great, nobly contemplating Christ. If a sick or a wounded man lies before you; look upon your own health and the wounds from which Christ delivered you. If you see a naked man clothe him, to give thanks for your own garment of incorruption (1Co 15:42
), which is Christ, for as many as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Gal 3:27
). If you find a debtor falling at your feet (Mt 18:23
), tear up every mortgage, whether it is legal or unjust. Remember the ten thousand talents which Christ forgave you. Do not be a harsh exactor of a smaller debt-and from whom? From your fellow servant, you who were forgiven so much more by the Master."
Gregory Nazianzus, Theological Oration, 40.31
Lord Jesus Christ, You have forgiven me all my sins in the waters of holy Baptism. Rescue me from the delusion that I will ever get beyond the gifts You give there in that life-giving font. Help me to serve my neighbor from the power of the font. Grant me the grace to overlook his sins against me, that I might never disgrace the mercy You have showered down on me. Amen.
For Walter Friend, that the Lord Jesus would grant him that peace which surpasses all human understanding
For Jo Lodholz, that the Lord who redeemed her, called her, and sanctified her would keep her until she stands in His nearer presence
For congregations seeking pastors, that they would be granted the gift of a pastor who is a man after God's own heart
Art: VOUET, Simon Annunciation (1640s)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015