Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Lent 5 Midweek – April 5, 2017
Text: Matthew 18:23-35
The Fifth Petition
“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Of all the professions there are, debt collectors have to be among the most ruthless in carrying out their job. It’s not just in recent years, but collecting on outstanding debts goes back to the first time someone didn’t pay what they rightly owed.
This is the language in the 5th Petition. What we know as “trespass” is actually a clarification offered by the King James Version (and Luther’s German Bible, Schuld). To trespass against God’s command is to sin. Yet, the original word is opheleima, Greek for something which is owed—a debt.
Debt collectors threaten, sue, and show up with tow trucks all to collect on what is owed. They’re good at what they do, too. Their work is so feared that even the mention of “being sent to collections” strikes fear in our hearts.
What the 5th petition tells us, however, is that God is a debt collector. Our sin against Him is a serious, insurmountable debt. “24 When [the master] 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.” Send out the repo man, call in every credit service from coast to coast, and throw him in debtor’s prison.
But there’s a turn of events. They don’t show up at your door to make collection. They show up at the cross of God’s own Son. There, He makes full payment for your debts—the good you’ve failed to do and the evil you’ve gone right ahead and kept on doing. His holy blood is able to pay the price to settle accounts with God, and you come out debt-free.
But the grace of God is not like going to those companies that promise to wipe away your debt just to avoid the consequences, so you can go back to foolish ways. That would be to abuse the Master’s kindness. No, those who are truly repentant and grateful for the blood of Christ have a change of heart.
The children of God look at the load of debt—ten thousand talents, if you like round numbers—and they see the sacrificial loving kindness of God. God, who had every right to demand great and frequent payment for our offenses, blotted them out of His ledger with the blood of Christ. Then, they see the debts others owe them—financial, emotional, or spiritual. If we’re thinking numbers, nothing can compare to the value of Christ’s redeeming work, but it far outshines whatever could be done to us. If God in His infinite justice and righteousness, could forgive us our debts, how much less cost is involved to forgive our debtors?
God will not have His loving kindness treated lightly. His Son bore the cost of the sins of the world so they could be taken away from us—“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” If we, however, in our finite wisdom hold onto those sins and judge someone more harshly than God has judged us, we infuriate our Master.
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.”
And of our many sins, carrying grudges and uncovering old debts is one of the most persistent. We all have our own private collection agency. So, in this petition, we not only pray that God would forgive this wickedness, but that He would give us clean and renewed hearts to pay our debtor’s accounts with the holy blood of Christ. If we can do this, we will know what the love of God is which He showed us. We will be able to genuinely live as citizens of the kingdom of heaven and never be cast out.
God help us! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Romans 7:19
 John 1:29, emphasis added
Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR