March 10, 2019

Matthew 18:15-35

The statue in the image before you has an interesting story behind it. It was created by Josefina de Vasconcellos in 1977. It depicts a man and woman embracing and was originally entitled Reunion. 

Josefina describes the sculpture in this way; “The sculpture was originally conceived in the aftermath of the War. Europe was in shock, people were stunned. I read in a newspaper about a woman who crossed Europe on foot to find her husband, and I was so moved that I made the sculpture. Then I thought that it wasn’t only about the reunion of two people but hopefully a reunion of nations which had been fighting.”

Later it was renamed Reconciliation upon the request of the Peace Studies Department of the University of Bradford which owns the original. In 1995 (to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II) bronze casts of this sculpture were placed in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral and in the Hiroshima Peace Park in Japan. An additional cast can be found on the grounds of Stormont Castle in Belfast. To mark the opening of the rebuilt German Reichstag (parliament building) in 1999, another cast was placed as part of the Berlin Wall memorial.

The Coventry Cathedral where this one stands became the International Center for Reconciliation in 1940 out of the ruins of the destroyed cathedral in the second World War. The history goes that instead of seeking revenge for the destruction of the cathedral the center’s founders vowed to seek reconciliation in areas of conflict. 

Another significant act of reconciliation has come out of South Africa through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the end of Apartheid. As the victims of Apartheid were able to voice the wrongs done against them, to their oppressors so that the people could move forward, not out of revenge but reconciliation. Seeking healing from times of oppression and injury.

These historic moments of reconciliation out of horrendous tragedies in humanity’s history, are wonderful examples of how it is possible to find healing even in the presence of terrible brokenness and scars. Times when the harm that has been born out of conflict, or oppression, is brought to light so that a way forward may be found. 

It is easy to look at these as virtuous examples of healing out of harm. Of forgiveness for the wrongs that have been done, and yet, we struggle in those moments where we are to forgive. We can lift up these examples where peoples have been able to move forward in relationship, even after terrible injustices have been done. These historic moments did not just wash away the evils that had been done, but rather brought them to light so that the victim and the oppressor could hear and see the error of their ways. So that in recognizing the brokenness they have caused they could move forward through repentance. 

This past Wednesday, some of us came together to mark the beginning of Lent. This is a season where we are called to intentionally look within ourselves at those moments where we have fallen short, where we have sinned against God and one another. To seek forgiveness as we strive to be better followers of Christ. As we seek to heal the brokenness in our world. To heal the brokenness in our own lives. Yet if we are to seek reconciliation with those we have harmed, we are also called to find reconciliation with those who are seeking forgiveness. 

The whole of chapter 18 is about forgiveness and healing in one way or another. It begins by calling out the individual who has done harm to another and calls the hearer to examine their own life so that restoration may be found. Then we have today’s reading starting with verse 15, which first instructs the hearer in how to make the brokenness known to the one who caused it, and then how we are to forgive those who have sinned against us. 

And then we have this parable from Matthew 18:23-35. 

We begin by hearing how a master forgives his slave’s immense debt when he simply asked for more time. Now to provide some context here, a talent was equal to about 15 years worth of wages for a laborer, and he owed 10,000 talents. 15,000 years worth of wages. No telling how this slave was able to amass such a debt, not to mention how he could ever pay it off, and yet the master forgives him the debt. 

Then the slave goes to one of his peers who owes him a hundred denarii, a few weeks worth of wages. A mere fraction of what this slave had been forgiven by his master, yet when their peer is unable to pay, they are thrown into prison until it is paid. 

This parable isn’t about the exact amount of money but rather about the absurd amount of compassion that God has for us, and our response when others ask for a mere fraction of that compassion. 

Each Sunday we pray the Lord’s prayer and I hope as we say the words, we are reminded that God’s forgiveness of our sins and brokenness is tied up in how we forgive others. We celebrate through songs, and prayers the Love of God. We lift up our broken places seeking forgiveness, knowing that the Lord our God has compassion for us. Yet, we need the reminder of this parable. We need the reminder to forgive those who seek our forgiveness. It doesn’t mean forgetting the harm that has been done, but rather moving forward into a place of reconciliation. It doesn’t mean the person escapes punishment from the proper authorities. It does mean we don’t hold the burden of their sin over their head when they seek forgiveness. 

The International Center for Reconciliation and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, were not set up to simply forget the brokenness in our world through conflict and oppression, but rather recognized more good can come from healing than through revenge and retribution. More healing can be done as we learn, and grow from those places where sin has caused injury. 

As we find forgiveness in the Lord our God, we find a way forward, to be better, to bring wholeness into our world. In the same way as our peers seek forgiveness we have the opportunity to find healing and growth. A way forward together, rather than demanding retribution. Finding healing where there could otherwise be a weight, weighing both parties down.