Kris Litman-Koon, Mount Pleasant, SC

Warm-up Question

Share a time from this past week when you needed to be forgiven by another person.

Foray and Forgiveness

Both the attendees and the viewers of the livestreamed 11:00am Mass at Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul in Philadelphia were shocked by what transpired during the service on August 23. Sarah Contrucci had just finished reading as the lector and was returning to her pew. An unknown woman approached Contrucci and punched her twice in the face, for no clear reason. The staff of the cathedral said the attacker had previously attended their services, however, she was not a parishioner. Police later found and took the suspect into custody, however no charges were filed. 

Contrucci, who did not seek medical attention, has forgiven her attacker. “I hope that she learns to love the Lord and maybe even come back to Mass someday and is respectful.” 

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever seen an act of violence or heard harmful words which shocked you because it took place at church or another setting that is not commonly associated with such behavior?
  • What is your reaction to Sarah Contrucci’s statement of forgiveness?

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Genesis 50:15-21

Romans 14:1-12

Matthew 18:21-35

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year A at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

Immediately prior to today’s gospel lesson, Jesus tells the parable of the shepherd bringing lost sheep back  into the fold (18:10-14).  Then Jesus offers instructions for how to correct (i.e. reprove) the actions of another Christian in the church (18:15-20). That leads into today’s two-part lesson of how many times we ought to forgive a fellow Christian (Jesus’ answer: forgive them more times than you can count) and of the parable of the unforgiving servant. 

At the outset Jesus says  this parable should shape how we understand the reign of God. As is the case in many parables, extraordinary circumstances seek to highlight certain details. A servant owes ten thousand talents.  That would take 150,000 years for a laborer to pay off if every cent earned every day went to paying off the debt. That impossibility does not so much highlight the hole of debt this servant has dug, as it highlights the incomprehensible magnitude of God’s willingness to forgive. Yet, this forgiven servant threatens a fellow servant to pay what is owed to him, which is the equivalent of only 100 days of labor, a measly amount compared to the forgiveness the first servant received. The master hears of this and is irked, to say the least.

The way this parable shapes our understanding of God’s reign is twofold.  It offers a glimpse of God’s incomprehensible proclivity to forgive us, and says that divine forgiveness must shape how we treat others. 

Forgiveness can be a complicated concept. Most people begin to grasp it as young children, when playing with other young children. One child physically or emotionally hurts another child, and then an adult offers an instruction to forgive. It is a good lesson for a child to learn that if someone (intentionally or unintentionally) knocks over your blocks, you need to let that act not ruin your whole day. Yet, we grow in age and the situations that involve a call to forgiveness grow more complicated.

Do we “let bygones be bygones” if a bully steals our lunch? Must we “forgive and forget” those unwarranted double punches to our face from a stranger? Should we “turn a blind eye” to someone’s pattern of abuse? It does no good for us or for the other person if we passively accept this harmful behavior out of a child-like understanding of forgiveness. Recall that immediately prior to today’s lesson, Jesus was teaching how to correct, or reprove, another Christian’s behavior. So perhaps we must consider how reproving another person may be the necessary step for that person to desire forgiveness and to make amends for their actions. 

Our understanding of forgiveness must develop beyond what we initially learned as children playing with others, especially when the offending behavior shows a pattern of abuse instead of a one-time accidental offense. This Faith Lens article is not the place to flesh this out; other resources and books can do that for us. However, a summary of a more mature understanding of forgiveness is this: We need not like the person after forgiving them, nor do we have to maintain a relationship with them. Forgiveness is for us to be liberated from the power that person’s action has over us, and we should hope that our forgiveness will direct that person toward being liberated from whatever is driving them toward this unhealthy behavior.

Discussion Questions

  • This passage of scripture speaks of Christians correcting and forgiving other Christians. Do you think Jesus’ instruction should also influence how Christians correct and forgive people who aren’t Christian?
  • Is it helpful for you to view forgiveness as our liberation from the power someone’s action has over us?
  • What are some scenarios that you imagine it would be difficult to forgive another person? 

Activity Suggestions

The game “Most Likely To…” can be played in person or in a virtual chat. Have someone lead by reading one of these statements at a time, allowing the group to determine who is most likely to do that item. Try to give all participants a “most likely to” designation; beyond that, your group can determine its own rules. If time allows, participants can submit their own creative “most likely to” statements to the leader.

  • Most likely to speak with their mouth full.
  • Most likely to do something gross on a dare.
  • Most likely to sing in an open field.
  • Most likely to go to bed without brushing their teeth.
  • Most likely to eavesdrop on a conversation. 
  • Most likely to forget their mask when going out.
  • Most likely to need help finding their other shoe.
  • Most likely to cry during an argument.
  • Most likely to burn popcorn.
  • Most likely to forgive.

Closing Prayer

Loving God, we are not able to fathom the forgiveness you eagerly await to bestow on us each day. Help us, likewise, to be forgiving people. When we need forgiveness, may your Spirit help us accept that reality and correct our behavior moving forward. Amen.