Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It seems like Peter always knows what’s truly in the sinner’s heart, and he’s never afraid to say it. “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” In other words, how long do I have to put up with my neighbor? What is the bare minimum I have to do to love my neighbor as myself? Yeah, I know that God is merciful to me, but how long must I be merciful to my brother? This is a dreadful way of thinking! We must all learn some repentance today, before we are thrown into prison forever.
That’s what Jesus says. But don’t try to make Him say that God’s forgiveness really depends on how well you forgive your neighbor, as if you could forgive your neighbor as much as Jesus forgives you. Jesus knows that God’s mercy rests entirely on the Father giving of His Son over to death, and He applies that work to you through Word and Sacraments. God has paid the penalty for sin by killing Jesus on the cross. All your debt is paid. What you owe, Christ bought. Though you deserve to be cast into prison until you’ve paid every cent, Jesus went to prison for you. He paid the whole amount of debt for every man, woman and infant: from the vilest murderer to the meekest child. Jesus rescued you from ever thinking there is anything you have to do or give or show to gain God’s heaven. So do not believe that He will withhold God’s grace until sinners makes full repayment for their sins.
But also don’t believe that He wants you to cast them off or make someone suffer a little longer before you give them forgiveness. Jesus speaks today the way a king would if, having forgiven one servant an incredible amount of money, he then finds out that that same servant turned around and had a fellow servant put in prison for a debt far less than what was owed the king.
It is the pastor’s lot to stand in the middle of these two errors. Pastors hear the sins that people confess. They watch the lives of God’s people fall apart because of sin. They hear criticisms and accusations and complaints, sometimes against the pastor himself. Still, a pastor stands before the altar and says: “I forgive you all your sins.” He hears your sins and he forgives, admitting poor sinners like themselves to Christ’s altar. By the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ in bread and wine, your sins are done away with, forgiven and forgotten. Learn from the Ministry that’s here for you! Learn from how God deals with you, and from that, learn how to be toward one another. Jesus takes your sins, dies for them, and pours out His forgiveness.
Pay attention to the Gospel that has been set before you. Has there ever been a time when a sinner does not receive absolution when he comes with repentance and confesses? If you don’t know, you have not been paying attention. Your pastor promised to forgive repentant sinners, and he can be removed from the Holy Ministry if he doesn’t forgive repentant sinners. So come and learn the Gospel of Jesus. Learn that, when you sin, the Lord will use your pastor to hear your confession and speak forgiveness. He will use your pastor’s mouth to preach to you that Jesus died so that you will live. Your sins now belong to Jesus, and He calls them all forgiven. He will feed you with His body and blood, bringing forgiveness, life, and salvation to your lips. From these, you learn to use your lips to forgive others.
Like Peter, your pastor is under orders to forgive as often as you come repenting. And if you are not yet strong enough to let go of someone’s sins, confess your weakness and your lack of faith and love. For the sake of Jesus, and in His stead, your pastor will say, “By the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins.” He will urge you to receive the Holy Supper. And with such forgiveness, we, who ought to pay forever, will “sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us,” no matter how many times we have to do it. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.