Midweek Faith Lift
August 10, 2022
The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant-
Forgiveness is Ongoing
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
August 2, 2022
What used to be a landscape devastated by erosion is now 1,360 acres of forest in Kokilamukh, India, thanks to Jadav Payeng, who planted a tree every day for 40 years. The forest is home to hundreds of elephants, rhinos, boars, and birds. Jadav says he will plant trees until his last breath. “Nature is God. It gives me inspiration. It gives me power."
“Every point of nature is a word of God and a book about God.”
- Meister Eckhart
Affirmative prayer: There is only one Life. It is the life of God and it shows Itself in every expression of nature, in every embrace of humanity, and in every point of light, love, and power in the Universe. May my thoughts and actions this day reflect this golden truth. Thank you, God, forever. Amen.
It is sweet to be talking about forgiveness on the 10th anniversary of my first Sunday as your minister. Over these past 10 years we have loved and forgiven each other many times. We have repaired and nurtured our relationship as a beloved community and endeavored faithfully to actually practice what it is we say to each other. For this I am so humbly grateful. You have been incredible teachers for me and grown me as a minister. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has been and continues to be worth it, worth our time, energy, attention and resources! Today we celebrate our journey together, what we have become and what we can be together as a spiritual community. It is a joy filled day! Can I have an Amen!?
The parable of the Unmerciful Servant is a distinct contrast to the journey we have shared. It is in Matthew 18:21-35 and it reads like this:
21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if my brother or sister sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him, 25 and, as he could not pay, the lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him by the throat he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (NRSV)
Wow, once again, we read of the Kingdom of Heaven as a process, a consciousness and this time it is a consciousness of forgiveness. There are a lot of nuances to this story and yet the core message is clear. Forgiveness is about consciousness and if you understand that, then you behave in accordance with that consciousness. If you don’t understand, then you put yourself in a prison of your own making and you hold the keys to your release. That is the essence of this parable. But Jesus tells a story in order to make it very concrete and very clear to his listeners.
The very first thing he clears up is in his answer about how many times must I forgive my brother, the same person? There are some versions of this passage that say 70 times 7 which is 490 times! I will never forget the Sunday when Tayea was here, and she was about 9 years old. She had two older brothers and she had done the math. After the service she specifically came to ask me if she had heard right…490 times she needed to forgive her brothers! She looked horrified! And I think she said something like, that’s not possible!
Which is how many of us feel when we hear that for the first time! The number 7 is the number of human completion. The point of this is to forgive until you feel free of the burden of resentment. That may take some time, and for sure willingness. How do you know you are finished and that you have truly forgiven? My best experience of that one is when you stop focusing on the offense and begin the work of repairing the relationship. You clean up your side of the emotional street, so to speak and you stop telling the story of how “they done you wrong….” You stop singing the blues and start planting trees, like the opening story!
The issue at hand is that you forgive according to your level of consciousness. There are four levels of consciousness and they are all present in this story and the opening story about the man with the trees. When we first contemplate forgiveness, often we begin with a mental ledger of accounts receivable thinking mostly of how we have been wronged, how we have been the victim. Our desire is accountability, for others, more than for us! This is victim consciousness and it is frequently our starting point. This consciousness sees the forgiveness process as a transaction, not as a possibility for transformation.
That is the unfortunate level of consciousness of the unmerciful servant. He has been forgiven a debt of 10,000 talents, but we don’t hear words of gratitude, humility or transformation. It is more like he lucked out in his transaction with his master, without having to acknowledge or own his part of the deal that created this huge debt. When that happens, when we don’t see or take responsibility for our part of the deal, then transformation is not possible and we will continue to suffer. That is the message of this parable. For what does the servant do but turn around and inflict suffering on his peer who owes him much less, just 100 talents. When we do not have a consciousness of true forgiveness, what happens to us, even when we are forgiven in a huge way? We continue to offend, to cause harm and distress and we suffer.
It is really interesting to also note that there were observers of this sequence of events who spoke up who are also significant in this story. They saw what happened and reported it to the Master. What’s with that? Well, they are much like our “observer” self that has the option to decide how to respond to circumstances, either from our humanity or our divinity. If we are all the characters in this story, which we metaphysically are, then this part of us represents what I call “victor” consciousness, that part of us that has experienced the healing process that happens when we forgive or when we are forgiven. This is the still, small voice within us that calls us to a higher place in consciousness and nudges us toward realizing the possibilities of transformation that happen with a true forgiveness consciousness.
If you have ever fully experienced the process of making amends, then you understand the relief and freedom that it brings. It is a kind of peace that passes all understanding and it keeps our hearts opens. What that process does for us is begin the work of repairing our relationships, which is what forgiveness is all about. It is a work of repair, of healing our heart. It is a process of coming into wholeness and a vivid awareness of our true Christ nature. Think of someone with whom you have reconciled and how light and free it feels to no longer hold the heavy weight of a grudge. Even if the other person has not forgiven you and is still holding a grudge against you, the amends you make in your heart activates the love of the Christ energy that you are.
This is what I call the “vessel” consciousness whereby we begin to see ourselves as a channel of God Love and God Light. It is the consciousness of John Lewis who described the experience of a KKK member who asked his forgiveness for beating him in 1961. Lewis said, “I didn’t need him to apologize to forgive him. Because I had long ago decided that I wasn’t going to be bound….Forgiveness is medicine for the mind, balm for the body, and healing for the heart,” p. 88 of John Lewis, Carry On. Lewis for sure understood the power and Presence of love that is forgiveness.
Then there is our tree planter from the opening story today, who truly represents the Oneness Consciousness that Jesus is offering in his parable of the Unmerciful Servant. The numbers tell the story for 10,000 talents in the first round alerts us to how significantly this master’s forgiveness can bring the servant into wholeness, into oneness with his higher self. The next number is 100 talents, which again amplifies the number one, which signifies Oneness or the highest level of consciousness. Each time the unmerciful servant misses the opportunity for healing and to come into the possibility of transformation.
However our tree planter gets it and he keeps planting and planting and planting trees until the forest has come back into wholeness. He is in a consciousness of constantly repairing his and our relationship with the earth and he truly gets it that this continues as long as he is alive. May it be so with us! May we plant seeds and trees of repair and forgiveness as long as we live!
Blessings on the Path,