Devotional Thoughts on Matthew 18:15-35
February 16-21, 2015
Monday, February 16, 2015
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone” (Matthew 18:15).
Jesus’ instructions seem so simple, but we certainly have a difficult time following them.
Karen and Juanita served on their congregation’s outreach committee. During a brain storming session, Juanita offered two great ideas on which Karen said she would follow up. A family emergency and trip to urgent care caused Karen to forget about the commitment she made. Not knowing about the family emergency Juanita took offense. Instead of going directly to Karen, Juanita chose to confide in a few of her close friends. From their rumors of Karen’s ineptness, it spread and grew through the congregation. By the time Karen heard the rumor and was able to talk to Juanita about, it her reputation had been smeared and relationships strained. It would have been much better for Juanita to have first approached Karen.
Has someone done something to upset you? Don’t tell others. They can’t help you or make the situation right. Go to the person and share your hurt. This is a time for honesty, forgiveness and healing.
Loving Lord, We don’t like it when people spread rumors about us. Forgive us when we do the very same thing to others. We want to experience healing and forgiveness and not broken relationships and revenge. Amen.
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
“If the member refuses to listen to them, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17).
We are so quick to drop people into the Gentile/tax collector pile of our lives (even though we may not have gone through the steps of reconciliation instructed by Jesus). Some of the people in that pile may be people who had the audacity to disagree with us, or people who we feel slighted us. We avoid these people and give them the cold shoulder thinking that our actions will cause them to be so guilt stricken that they will come crawling to us asking for forgiveness.
Jesus must have shared this teaching with a grin and tongue-in-cheek. Those followers with a Jewish background would have been well acquainted with laws of separation and shunning of those thought to be Roman collaborators. They would have thought they knew exactly what Jesus was telling them to do. But, did they? Jesus healed a Gentile woman, cast out demons from a Gentile man and called a tax collector to be his disciple. On second thought, Jesus’ Jewish followers might have realized that Jesus was calling them to react to the person and situation with love and forgiveness.
It might be good for us to reevaluate how we treat the Gentiles and tax collectors of our lives.
Lamb of God, you lived and died to reconcile us with God and with each other. Forgive us when we so quickly cast others away from us. Like you, may we lead lives of reconciliation. Amen.
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:18).
Dan was raised in the church and saw himself as a follower of Jesus Christ. Once he got out on his own, though, he didn’t go to church. He didn’t think he needed to do so. Dan prayed, read the Bible, contributed occasionally to a current need and volunteered at a food pantry. Over time Dan noticed that his prayer life had gone flat and he did not sense God’s closeness in his life. Dan shared his predicament with a close friend who invited him to church.
Reluctantly Dan rose early on Sunday morning and drove to his friend’s church. He didn’t expect much. In fact he doubted that attending a worship service would make much difference in his life. When he arrived at the church he was warmly greeted by his friend and by other members of the congregation. The music lifted his spirit and he heard God speak to him in the reading of scripture and in the pastor’s sermon. Receiving the bread and wine of communion was a grace filled moment for Dan.
It shouldn’t have surprised Dan or any of us to experience God in the fellowship of believers. That’s where Jesus promised us he would be.
Holy Trinity, you are a God of relationships. Thank you for gathering us into a congregation and for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.
Thursday, February 19, 2015
“How often should I forgive? As many as seven times” (Matthew 18:22)?
Clyde and Mildred had been married for sixty-five years. Their family and friends threw them a party to celebrate their accomplishment and their anniversary. At the end of a short program that was filled with laughter and tears Clyde, the extrovert of the couple, was asked to say a few words. Clyde started to thank everyone, but he was interrupted by a great granddaughter who called out, “Hey Paps! How did you and Mam stay together for so long?” With a twinkle in his eye Clyde answered, “Forgiveness.” Clyde went on to relate that neither he nor his wife were perfect people. They made mistakes, they unintentionally hurt each other and sometimes they forgot important things. There were many reasons they needed to forgive each other and through the years they never ran out of forgiveness.
There are few guarantees in the world, but one is that someone will do something that will need our forgiveness. After all, we are imperfect people who are sometimes a little self-centered and uncaring. All of us are in great need of forgiveness—by God and by each other. The only alternative to forgiveness is not to forgive. Forgiveness results in healing and life. Not forgiving brings pain and death to all involved. Accepting the invitation to forgive is to accept the invitation to life, love and grace.
God of unconditional forgiveness, overwhelm us with your love that we may choose forgiveness and allow its life and light into our lives and the lives of others. Amen.
Friday, February 20, 2015
“Out of pity for him the Lord released him and forgave him the debt” (Matthew 18:27).
There is a story of a man who wore a large, frumpy coat. The coat was black with scores of patches all over it. One day someone was curious enough to ask the man about the patches on his coat. They had to be more than a fashion statement. The man replied that they represented the sins of other people—sins that he noticed and remembered throughout the day. On the back of the man’s coat there was a large patch that covered almost the entire area. When asked about that patch, the man replied that the patch represented his own sins—sins that he could not see and of which he was unaware.
We have a problem getting a true perspective on ourselves. Some of us view ourselves as dirt—mistakes. No matter how many people tell us that we have value, we don’t change our view. Other people feel that they are “God’s gift to creation.” Both perspectives see sinfulness in the wrong light. One thinks they have too much sin that is unforgiveable. The other believes that they don’t have any sin that needs to be forgiven. Such views warp life’s experiences and relationships—they certainly did the unforgiving servant’s.
It is important for us to realize that we are all sinful. This is one of the reasons why many of our worship services have a time of confession and absolution. We also need to understand that we are forgiven—no matter how great our sins are. From this vantage point we can live humbly and thankfully as see as we share God’s love and grace.
God of Light, shine in our lives that we may see not only our sinfulness but also that we are your children, your servants and witnesses to your love and grace. Amen.
Saturday, February 21, 2015
“Then he [the servant] went, threw him into prison until he would pay the debt” (Matthew 18:30).
Lauren looked up from her desk and noticed a young woman looking a little disorientated and confused. She was obviously a new hire who had been dropped in the maze of cubicles and expected to find her way around and do her job. Lauren remembered her first days at work a few years before and how daunting finding the break room and running the copier had been. No one else seemed to have recognized that the confused daze had turned into a “deer-in-the-headlights” look on the woman’s face. Lauren’s memories motivated her into action. He got up from her desk, approached the young woman and introduced herself. “Here, let me show you around and introduce you to a few people,” she said.
The servant’s memory was short lived. He quickly forgot his terror at his family being sold into slavery by his master in order to pay his debts. The servant also forgot his joy at being forgiven his debts and being freed. His memory loss caused him to act in an ungrateful and unforgiving manner towards those who owed him money.
God has given us his steadfast love, unconditional forgiveness and overwhelming grace. When we remember this and celebrate it, we are enabled to share that same love and forgiveness with those around us.
Gracious Lord, Enable us to remember what you have done in our lives. May those memories shape our relationships with others. Amen.
Sunday, February 22, 2015
“And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he world pay his entire debt” (Matthew 18:34).
Many Christians believe that forgiving others is an option in a Christian’s life. “We don’t need to forgive,” we tell ourselves. “No harm is done if we don’t forgive,” we rationalize. “There are times,” we proclaim, “when it is just and right for us to withhold forgiveness.” Such thoughts are filled with lies.
The unforgiving servant was handed over to be tortured by his master. In reality the servant was already tortured and imprisoned by his lack of forgiveness long before his master acted. The lack of forgiveness does that in our lives. It imprisons us in hateful thoughts and unloving actions. Not forgiving others robs us of the experience of a full, abundant life. The lack of forgiveness also affects the community by dampening the celebration of God’s grace and limiting the expression of God’s love.
Forgiveness is not an option for the Christian. Forgiveness is a necessity—for our wellbeing, for the community’s health and for the life of the one who needs to be forgiven. We express the importance of forgiveness every time we pray The Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us.”
Healing God, forgive us and help us to forgive, so that your healing touch may be experienced in all of our relationships. Amen.