Grudges In Our Back Pocket?

Text: Matthew 18:21-35

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

In our day and age, it is taught that when we are offended by someone else, this vile person then owes it to us to make things right. We are told that they need to grovel or apologize or do some penance to make up for their offense. Now, if we have bought into the advice of the world, often we won’t even tell the person about their offense, but we will sure hint at it with passive-aggressive tactics. We will give them the silent treatment or reply with snide short responses, followed by sighs and rolled eyes. On the other hand, we can do the opposite, and that is to avoid them, just enough to make them feel rejected but not enough to make it blatantly obvious. We want them to feel the backlash for their offense and then to crawl back to us with tears and dread, begging us to forgive them. With all of this stated, though, if they do pick up on our silent treatment, passive-aggressive tactics, and avoidance – and if they do not make things right – we then convince ourselves that we are somehow justified to hold a longstanding grudge against them.  

You see, my friends, our world says that someone has to bleed – someone has to die when we are offended. There has to be some punishment for the offense against us to make everything right again. And if there is no punishment and no groveling – or apology or penance – then we are taught that it is within our right to hold a grudge as long as we deem it necessary. In fact, when we are offended, there is a part of us that doesn’t want to let go of the sin. We have a part of us that wants someone’s blood for their wrongdoing against us.  For example, when we are sinned against, we get our paper and pen out to keep a record of all of their wrongdoings against us. We write the offense down in our minds. We examine it from all angles. We stew over the offense, letting it raise our blood pressure. Small offenses are made into massive injustices towards humanity in our minds while we put the person in our debt, owing us some sort of undefined payment.  

Everything becomes unraveled, though, when the person who has sinned against us asks for forgiveness. Yes, when the person who offends us realizes their sin, they come to us to apologize, and then we are left in a difficult place. Yes, when this happens, we are left with the need to forgive - to let go. You see, my friends, as we heard a couple of weeks ago, the word ‘forgiveness’ is a word that means to let go or release. Forgiveness does not imply that there is no offense, and it is not saying that the sin never happened, but rather, forgiveness acknowledges sin but then says, 

“I release you from your debt; I let go of my desire to see you bleed for your offense.”  

Perhaps we could say it simply this way; forgiveness is a release – a letting go - of vengeance. It is a letting go of our desire to get even. 

As it has been previously alluded to, forgiveness is difficult, especially if we have spent years upon years holding on to the other person’s offense. Let’s be honest again, we have all gone down this unforgiving path before, and we know our neighbors who have done this as well. We know those stories of that farmer who won’t drink coffee at a particular restaurant and won’t belong to a particular elevator co-op because of a land dispute with another farmer decades ago. We know those stories of parishioners who refuse to set their feet inside a church because a pastor offended them years ago. We know those stories where a person will go to the other side of the street to avoid a fellow neighbor who offended them. We know those stories where family members have avoided each other for years because of a past conflict. These are just a few of the examples where this lack of forgiveness is played out. You and I have stories just like these, with different plots and different circumstances but the same lack of forgiveness.     

Tragically, a spirit of unforgiveness is toxic. Not only is it toxic to someone seeking forgiveness, but also it is toxic to the person withholding forgiveness. You see, when we hold on to injustices and refuse to forgive, we are doing so because we want the other person to suffer and pay for their offense against us. Now, two things are happening here that we must understand. First, we have propped ourselves up so high that we have made ourselves into a god, where we say, 

“How dare they cross me; who do they think they are for offending me?”  

Second, whether we realize it or not, our unforgiving attitude is actually seeking out the destruction of our neighbor as the only way to remedy their offense. Bluntly stated, we want our neighbor to suffer and bleed for their offense against us, and only after they have suffered and bled enough are we able to possibly forgive them.  

Dear friends, we must keep in mind that in the eyes of the world, someone has to bleed and die when you are offended and sinned against. The world teaches you not to let go, to not forgive. The world teaches you to keep a record of wrong and to seek vengeance. The world tells you that vengeance is in your control. The world tells you not to be merciful but to be hard-hearted and unforgiving to fellowman. But what the world does not tell you is that this kind of thinking and attitude winds you up in hell.  

In our reading from the Gospel of Matthew, we read about a servant who was forgiven 7.5 billion dollars of debt (in today’s money). However, this same servant dared to put the screws to another person for owing him 20,000 dollars. Now, to be clear, Jesus calls this servant - wicked. Yes, he is wicked, for he was just forgiven 7.5 billion dollars of debt and then goes out with an unmerciful heart and demands 20,000 dollars from his neighbor when he should’ve shown mercy on his fellow servant. And so, the point is this, when we refuse to forgive others who have wronged us – when our knuckles are white from clinging to injustices and when our time and energy are spent trying to figure out how to get even and make someone bleed… well, we are the truly wicked ones. We are wicked and stubborn because we have failed to realize that someone has already bled for the offense that was committed against us. Yes, we have failed to recognize that someone has already bled for the sin committed against us and for our unforgiving hearts. 

Dear Baptized Saints, drop your vengeance. Release your neighbors from your unforgiving heart! Christ Jesus has bled for your sin and my sin. He has bled for the sin that has been committed against you and me. 

Furthermore, Christ Jesus has not treated us the way that we deserve. He has not punished us for our sins. He has not unleashed vengeance on us. He owed us nothing yet gave us everything! Because the Lord gave up His right and claim over you and me, He desires that we, too, should do likewise to our neighbors. If the Lord has forgiven you 7.5 billion dollars, why should you not give your neighbor $20,000? Since you have been forgiven of every sin of thought, word, and deed from the time of your birth until your last dying breath, and since you have been forgiven of your sinful condition that has tainted your heart, why should you not give forgiveness to your neighbor?  

Baptized Saints, Jesus Christ, gives Himself to you, becomes your gracious Lord, is kind to you and serves you with His good gifts when He has absolutely no reason to do so and every reason not to. Ah, but he cannot withhold this kindness from you, for He is rich mercy.

Baptized Saints, the truth of the matter is this: no more blood needs to be shed for sin that we commit or is committed against us, for Jesus’ blood on the cross is sufficient for the sin of the entire world.  

And so, not only is today’s Gospel reading about forgiveness, but also it is about living in freedom. It is about knowing that Jesus Christ has forgiven you of an overwhelming debt of sin, which frees you from the trap of bitter unforgiveness. It frees you from the poisonous spirit that clings to unforgiveness. Yes, Baptized Saints, you are freed to forgive every wrong in the name of Jesus, whether the wrongdoer repents and makes acknowledgment to you or not. You are freed not to hold anything against your neighbor except the desire for them to settle their sin with God so that they, too, may find forgiveness, life, salvation, and freedom in Jesus.

Christ Jesus has bled for you; forgiveness is yours and for your neighbor. No more shed blood is needed, for Christ has bled for you and your neighbor’s forgiveness.      

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

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