God is with us in Word and Sacrament

The Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity

The Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity

Matthew 18:23–35


Most of our Lord’s parables are confusing. They lend themselves to multiple insights. Something that we must chew on and ponder for quite some time, perhaps even our entire lives. But this parable, on the other hand, is really quite clear. Our Lord sums it up for us: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

The doing unto to everyone of you is putting you into prison until you have repaid every debt, every sin that you owe to God. It’s a scary thought, especially knowing ourselves. Knowing how quick we are to hold grudges, how quick we are to view another’s actions in light of the one action that hurt us, quick to want some sort of revenge, to make them hurt, to cause them pain, and how slow we are to forgive from our heart.

To forgive from one’s heart does not mean what we think it means. The heart in the Scriptures is not the seat of the emotions, the place of our feelings. That is a relatively modern understanding of the heart. The seat of the feelings in the Scriptures is the gut. So when Jesus has compassion on people, the word that is used tells us that he feels it in his gut. It’s where we get terms like gut wrenching. The heart in the Scriptures is the seat of the will. So, when our Lord instructs us that we are to forgive from our heart, it means that we are to forgive from our will.

We can’t control our feelings. They are reactions to things that happen around us. But we can control what we do with our feelings. We can control how we react when those feelings come. So the husband who doesn’t feel like he loves his wife anymore, and his wife is standing there awaiting a hug, he can’t control how he feels in that moment. But he can control his arms. Likewise, when a brother has sinned against us, we can’t control how we feel about that person. We can’t control the feeling of anger or our desire for revenge, but we can control what we do. We can control what we say.

And Jesus tells us what we are to do. Earlier in this chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus give us three steps to follow when a brother sins against us. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:15–20)

So when your brother sins against you, you can choose to follow this bit of teaching our Lord gives, or you can choose to go to everyone else but them. But then you have sinned against them. And this leads to an endless crazy cycle of refusing to forgive one another because the other has sinned against you. This is how Satan cuts his church off at the knees to make her ineffective in this world. Forgiveness does not mean that we overlook sins. It means that we confront it with the Word of God so that it can be named, so that it can be forgiven. For “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Someone has to grow up. Someone has to be the adult, and go to them, either apologizing for your sin against them asking for their forgiveness, or showing them their fault, so that they will apologize and ask forgiveness of you. That is how we are reconciled in the forgiveness that Christ has won for us upon His cross. And when that forgiveness has been given from our heart, from our will, we continue to live in that forgiveness with each other, by choosing not to throw what has been done in their face in the future. It means that despite the fact that you still remember what has been done, you choose, you will, not to let define how you interact with your brother, you choose not to bring it back up, you choose to make your actions conform to God’s Word and forgiveness instead of making your actions slaves to your feelings. When we refuse to forgive our brother from our heart, we are giving into our fallen and sinful hearts, which fails to believe what God’s Word says about sin and grace, which fails to believe that the blood our Lord Jesus spilled his blood for the sin of the world, has not been spilled for the one who has sinned against us. And if we insist our Lord’s death and resurrection does not cover that sin, then we likewise insist that it does not cover any of ours either.

That is the first way in which we refuse to let God’s Word of forgiveness to reign in our lives, when we do not forgive our brother from our heart. The second way is when we refuse to let God’s forgiveness be true for our own sins. When we look in the mirror and we think that what we have done in the past is unforgivable. When we begin to think that what we have done to someone else will never lead to reconciliation with them. Thus, in the same way, as in the first, we are doubting God’s Word and promise that Christ’s substitutionary death and resurrection from the dead reconciles us not only to our Father in heaven but also to each other. And so it is not as though we forgive ourselves from our heart, but by our will, frail as it is, we resolve that God’s Word will have sway over our thoughts and our feelings. That despite what we have done in the past, not just as individuals, but as families and as a congregation, that we would hear God’s Word of forgiveness and simply say Amen to it. So that when our own sinful flesh, our own fallen will and hearts accuse us, and when the world around us accuses us, and Satan and his demons accuse of what we have done or left undone, we have a Word of God for that. That on account of Christ’s death and resurrection our sins have been forgiven, they have been removed, as far as the east is from the west, that in Holy Baptism, through the Water and Word poured out upon us, we carry the name of God upon our forehead and upon our heart, marking us as those redeemed by Christ the crucified. That we have the very body and blood of the living and risen Lord in our bodies and coursing through our veins, taking way our sin, quickening us, and giving us nourishment for our journey in this world and courage to face the uncertain future that unfolds.

God’s Word is sure and certain. It endures forever. God’s promises are irrevocable. He doesn’t take them back. And he has promised you, that in Christ Jesus your sins are no more. Believe it of yourselves. Believe it of your brother. It is the truth. Amen.


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