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Service for Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

{Keep a moment of silence calling to mind that, though we are unable to gather together, we share fellowship as a Church family as we offer this short act of worship in our own homes]

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Collect

Merciful God, your Son came to save us and bore our sins on the cross: may we trust in your mercy and know your love, rejoicing in the righteousness that is ours through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Gospel Reading: Matthew 18.21-35

Peter came and said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if anyone sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. ‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’

Reflection

Simon Peter takes centre stage in our reading once again this Sunday. Over the last few weeks we’ve read of how Simon was given the name ‘Peter’ [Rocky] when he confessed that Jesus was ‘The Messiah.’ We’ve also heard how, shortly afterwards, he was called ‘Satan’ for objecting to Jesus’ prediction of his death and resurrection. Today, Peter is the one who asks the questions. ‘Lord, if anyone sins against me how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’

He was actually being very generous, for it was generally accepted that the obligation to forgive was not unconditional. Many of the rabbis at the time taught that it was limited to three times. This is thought to have been based on a refrain found in the first two chapters of the Book of Amos, where the prophet warns Israel and its neighbours that God would not always forgive their transgressions, ‘For three sins and for four, I will not relent.’ Israel itself was singled out for the sternest warning, “For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not relent. They sell the innocent for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor and deny justice to the oppressed.’ [Amos 2.6-7]  As it was thought that man could never be more gracious than God the obligation to forgive was literally ‘three strikes and out.’

So Simon Peter was being more than doubly generous when he suggested that he would forgive up to seven times. Jesus’ response was a humorous one, ‘Not seven times, but seventy times seven!’

It’s obvious that our Lord wasn’t talking mathematically, commanding his followers to forgive up to four hundred and ninety times! In his answer he tells us that our forgiveness should know no bounds, and he explains this in the story of the unforgiving servant.   

Like many of the parables recorded in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus began by saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like...’ In this particular one the kingdom was compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. When they had been examined one of them was found to have amassed a huge debt of ten thousand talents, which was an enormous amount of money. The total revenue of the province of Galilee at the time is thought to have been three hundred talents. The servant owed ten thousand!

A talent was a defined weight of precious metal and some suggest that it would be worth around half a million pounds in today’s value. So the servant had amassed several billion pounds worth of debt, similar to the huge sum the UK government is racking up as it responds to the social and financial challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic.

It was such a huge sum of money that it could not possibly have been paid back. The only recourse the king had was to sell his servant, his family and his possessions to the highest bidder. This would have completely destroyed his life. So the slave fell on his knees before his master and, remarkably, the king forgave him the debt.

The parable would tell us much about God’s saving love for the world if it ended there, but it didn’t. Jesus went on to tell us about a fellow slave who owed the servant a hundred denarii. A denarius was usually a day’s wage [which is around a hundred pounds in the UK today]. So, what the second slave owed was an amount that was not impossible to pay back. But the man who had been forgiven his huge debt wouldn’t come to an arrangement with his colleague, who also fell on his knees for help. Mercilessly, he had him thrown into debtor’s prison.    

   But our actions rarely go unnoticed and, in the parable, the king’s other slaves were horrified by what they witnessed and reported the servant to their master. The king said, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?”  The servant was taken away to be tortured in prison. As his debt was unpayable he was condemned to spend the rest of his life in torment. The parable is a stark warning to anyone with an unforgiving heart. It reminds us that forgiveness is not an optional extra for the Christian disciple.

Through his death on the cross Jesus offered the world a way out of the downward spiral of hatred, violence and retaliation. He showed us instead the way of sacrificial and saving love. At the heart our Lord’s passion is his gift of forgiveness. He atones for the huge and unpayable debt of human sin and offered instead the way of reconciliation.  

Forgiving unconditionally is a challenging and courageous way to live, for it is the way of the cross, but it remains hope for our broken world. It’s why Jesus taught us to pray, ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’

Prayers

Lord, you have called your Church to witness to your reconciling and healing love for the world. Bless John our Bishop, the clergy and people of the Mumbles Ministry Area and all who serve you in word, sacrament or in the care of others. May your kingdom come and grow in us.

            Lord, hear us...   

Lord, may those who work in the world of finance be just and compassionate in their dealings. We remember especially those who bear the responsibility of responding to the financial challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic; may they be generous in their support for the sick, those who care for them and to those researching for a vaccine and new treatments for the disease.

            Lord, hear us...

Lord, give us compassionate and generous hearts as we live and work with others. Save us from living for ourselves alone and to use what we have for the good of all.

            Lord, hear us...

Lord, be with those who are anxious about employment in these challenging times or who worry about debt. Help us to work for a society where the poor and needy are helped to find their way out of poverty and distress.

            Lord, hear us...

Lord, be with all who suffer in mind, body or spirit. Lighten their present darkness with the light of your presence.

            Lord, hear us...

Lord, we pray for those who have followed you in their lives and are now at rest. In your eternal love grant them the peace and joy of your kingdom with all the saints.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Prayer for those who are unable to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion

My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the most blessed sacrament of Holy Communion. I love you above all things and I desire to receive you into my soul. Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace you as if you were already there, and unite myself wholly to you. Amen.                                                                

[St. Alphonsus Liguori]  

[Keep a moment of silence for spiritual communion with the Lord and with our brothers and sisters]

‘Forgive our sins as we forgive’ you taught us, Lord, to pray;

but you alone can grant us grace to live the words we say.

Rosamond E Herklots [1905-1987

The Spirit of truth lead us into all truth, give us grace to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among us and remain with us always. Amen.

 

Bible Readings: New Revised Standard Version [1989]  - Word of the Lord: Church in Wales = Leading Intercessions [adapted] - CCL Parish Copyright Licence:  753662