Lexegete ™ | Year A | Matthew
EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
September 14, 2008 (Lectionary 24)
Psalm 103:[1-7] 8-13 (8)
Psalm 114 (7) or Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21 (1)
or Holy Cross Day may be observed:
HOLY CROSS DAY
September 14, 2008
Psalm 98:1-4 (1) or Psalm 78:1-2, 34-38 (35)
1 Corinthians 1:18-24
TEXT - John 3:13-17 (The Message)
13-15"No one has ever gone up into the presence of God except the One who came down from that Presence, the Son of Man. In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.
16-18"This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn't go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person's failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.
© 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
The Message at Navpress
EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
September 14, 2008 (Lectionary 24)
1a. CONTEXT - Matthew 18:21-35
These two texts (Matt. 18:21-22, and 23-35) conclude the chapter in
Matthew which is sometimes called the "Rule for the Congregation," or
"Life in the Church." The first text is Peter's question on forgiveness,
which finds a parallel in Luke 17:4. This material does come from Q, but
it would be hard to say what the original for was, since Matthew and Luke
have used the material to meet their needs.
Jesus is interrupted for the first time in this discourse by a
question from Peter. (It doesn't matter in this case whether Peter
represents the disciples or not.) The question is asked as if Peter were
seeking clarification on some portion of the discourse. Peter's question
deals with the number of times he is to forgive when someone has wronged
him. He knows the obligation to forgive, but does it have a limit (heos
heptakis--up to seven?) Jesus turns the Song of Lamech (Gen. 4:24)
around ("if Cain is avenged seven-fold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold"),
and uses those numbers to express unlimited forgiveness. As one of my
pastor-teachers told me, "You are to forgive the sin of your brother or
sister until you've got the hang of it. If you are counting, you are not
The second text, commonly known as the "Parable of the Unforgiving
Servant," is not a "fleshing out" of the previous text. It comes from
Matthew's source material, and is only connected to the previous text by
the words dia touto (therefore) which is a common Matthean link. There is
nonetheless a unifying thought to the two texts, and that is best expressed
in Matt. 6:14-15.
This parable is one of the most fantastic parables in Scripture, for
so many aspects of it are foreign to the audience of Jesus. Wives could
not be sold; a person could not be forced into slavery because of debt; and
torture was not allowed under Jewish law. However all this, plus the
money angle, is the stuff of which stories worth remembering are made.
The king decides that the day has come to settle accounts with his
officials. One official owed the king an unbelievable amount of money.
(The talent was the largest form of currency, and 10,000 was the highest
number in reckoning--we are talking megabucks!) The official could not
pay it, so he and his wife were ordered to be sold. The official begs at the
feet of the king for a little more time; he promises to pay it all back
(though he knows he could not). The king shows mercy on him, however,
and he rescinds the order and cancels the debt. This same official
happened upon one of his underlings who owed him money (about
1/600,000 of what the official owed the king), and he demands payment on
the spot. The lesser official begs for a little more time (paying this debt
after a while was within his means), but his co-worker and immediate
boss shows no mercy, and he has him put into jail until his dependents can
make full payment. Other officials see this, and "full of indignation," they
report this to the king. The king then calls the official back, reprimands
him, cancels the remission of debt, and throws him into jail for good.
Matthew then adds v. 35 as a reminder to the key of the parable, which is
v. 33. The official had the chance to offer forgiveness as he had received
it, and he blew it.
1b. CONTEXT - Matthew 18:21-35
ESV: ‘ The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant ‘
21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. 
23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.  24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.  25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant  fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii,  and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers,  until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
 18:22 Or seventy-seven times
 18:23 Greek bondservants; also verses 28, 31
 18:24 A talent was a monetary unit worth about twenty years' wages for a laborer
 18:26 Greek bondservant; also verses 27, 28, 29, 32, 33
 18:28 A denarius was a day's wage for a laborer
 18:34 Greek torturers
21τοτε προσελθων ο πετρος ειπεν αυτω, κυριε, ποσακις αμαρτησει εις εμε ο αδελφος μου και αφησω αυτω; εως επτακις; 22λεγει αυτω ο ιησους, ου λεγω σοι εως επτακις αλλα εως εβδομηκοντακις επτα. 23δια τουτο ωμοιωθη η βασιλεια των ουρανων ανθρωπω βασιλει ος ηθελησεν συναραι λογον μετα των δουλων αυτου. 24αρξαμενου δε αυτου συναιρειν προσηνεχθη αυτω εις οφειλετης μυριων ταλαντων. 25μη εχοντος δε αυτου αποδουναι εκελευσεν αυτον ο κυριος πραθηναι και την γυναικα και τα τεκνα και παντα οσα εχει, και αποδοθηναι. 26πεσων ουν ο δουλος προσεκυνει αυτω λεγων, μακροθυμησον επ εμοι, και παντα αποδωσω σοι. 27σπλαγχνισθεις δε ο κυριος του δουλου εκεινου απελυσεν αυτον, και το δανειον αφηκεν αυτω. 28εξελθων δε ο δουλος εκεινος ευρεν ενα των συνδουλων αυτου ος ωφειλεν αυτω εκατον δηναρια, και κρατησας αυτον επνιγεν λεγων, αποδος ει τι οφειλεις. 29πεσων ουν ο συνδουλος αυτου παρεκαλει αυτον λεγων, μακροθυμησον επ εμοι, και αποδωσω σοι. 30ο δε ουκ ηθελεν, αλλα απελθων εβαλεν αυτον εις φυλακην εως αποδω το οφειλομενον. 31ιδοντες ουν οι συνδουλοι αυτου τα γενομενα ελυπηθησαν σφοδρα, και ελθοντες διεσαφησαν τω κυριω εαυτων παντα τα γενομενα. 32τοτε προσκαλεσαμενος αυτον ο κυριος αυτου λεγει αυτω, δουλε πονηρε, πασαν την οφειλην εκεινην αφηκα σοι, επει παρεκαλεσας με: 33ουκ εδει και σε ελεησαι τον συνδουλον σου, ως καγω σε ηλεησα; 34και οργισθεις ο κυριος αυτου παρεδωκεν αυτον τοις βασανισταις εως ου αποδω παν το οφειλομενον. 35ουτως και ο πατηρ μου ο ουρανιος ποιησει υμιν εαν μη αφητε εκαστος τω αδελφω αυτου απο των καρδιων υμων.
GreekBible.com Online Text Source:
Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 26th edition © 1979, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft,
Stuttgart; The Greek New Testament, 3rd edition © 1975, United Bible Societies, London
2. ANALYSIS - Matthew 18:21-35
It is important to take note of the sequence of events in the three
scenes of the parable (each scene has an introduction, followed by words,
and then an action) as there are linguistic and literary parallels in the
scenes. In this instance, however, I shall only concentrate on the two
little Greek words in v. 33, namely ouk edei. The negative ouk assumes and
anticipates a positive answer to the rhetorical quesstion that the king is
asking the official (and the reader!). Furthermore, as Thompson says, "The
imperfect edei implies that the master considers the following action as
something necessary which did not take place." This is the same verb that
is used in the passion predictions (The Son of Man must....). As Linnemann
says, "it...conveys the deep solemnity of a sacred law."
3. STRATEGY - Matthew 18:21-35
These texts bring to bear the context under which mercy and
forgiveness are given. Is mercy more than "getting a break," or is it the
exception to the rule of justice? Linnemann speaks of an "ordinance of
mercy" which is not the exception for our lives, but is the norm. She says
further, "Here mercy is not put at our discretion as one possibility among
others, but meets us as a demand." We are called to match this truth with
It is not an easy task to preach on this text, but the fifth petition
of the Lord's Prayer provides a clue. When we pray "forgive us our sins as
we forgive the sins of others," it assumes our capacity to forgive. Do I
want God to show mercy to me in the same way I show mercy to others?
God is holding us up against a reality that has been offered by that same
God. However, lest we think that all is lost in the face of an "unreasonable
reality," God also extends us an invitation, for in forgiveness, we
recognize that there is a way of life for the merciful.
Linnemann writes, "Forgiveness for instance here means something
other than 'saying no more about it' or as it is nicely put, 'letting the grass
grow over it.' It means the confidence that for the other (human being) and
me a common future is possible." And so it is also, with God.
Sermon titles that come to mind are "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," "He Got
More Than What He Asked For--Twice" (in reference to the unmerciful
servant), "Forgive Us Our Debts, As," and, in a little less serious vein, "How
Often Should I Forgive Thee? Let Me Count the Times." The important
thing, I think, is that the parable can stand on its own without a whole lot
of help from the preacher. This however, makes preparation all the more
4. WORSHIP SUGGESTIONS - Matthew 18:21-35
The suggested hymn of the day from the LBW # 307, "FORGIVE OUR
SINS AS WE FORGIVE" was an excellent choice. If the tune is a problem, sing it to the music of #331. TODAY YOUR MERCY CALLS US (LBW #304) is another good choice. In an evening service, ALL PRAISE TO THEE, MY GOD (LBW #278) and the
CONFESSION FROM PRAYER AT THE CLOSE OF THE DAY (LBW p. 155) can also be used. A much loved hymn, THERE'S A WIDENESS IN GOD'S MERCY (LBW
#290) could be sung as a hymn or anthem.
Bornkamm, Gunther. "The Authority to 'Bind' and "Loose' in the Church in
Matthew's Gospel: The Problem of Sources in Matthew's Gospel," in THE
INTERPRETAION OF MATTHEW, ed. G. Stanton. Philadelphia and London:
Fortress and SPCK, 1983.
Fenton, John. SAINT MATTHEW. Baltimore: Penguin, 1963.
Kingsbury, Jack Dean. MATTHEW: STRUCTURE, CHRISTOLOGY, KINGDOM.
Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975.
Linnemann, Eta. JESUS OF THE PARABLES. New York and Evanston: Harper
and Row, 1966.
Thompson, William G. MATTHEW'S ADVICE TO A DIVIDED COMMUNITY. Rome:
Biblical Institute, 1970.
Exegete: Rev. Michael L. Cobbler is Pastor of Hilltop Lutheran Church of the Ascension in South Bend, Indiana
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