November 20, 2016

Matthew 18:21-35

If we lose a heart of gratitude, if affects the way we treat other people and it will ultimately affect the way God treats us.

A blind man sat on the steps of a building with a hat by his feet. He held up a sign, which said : “I am blind, please help.” There were only a few coins in the hat. (http://jyotsna- gratitude.html)6a010535893544970c01538e218913970b-800wi

A man was walking by. He took a few coins from his pocket and dropped them into the hat. He then took the sign, turned it around, and wrote some words. He put the sign back so that everyone who walked by would see the new words. (Ibid)

Soon the hat began to fill up. A lot more people were giving money to the blind man. That afternoon the man who had changed the sign came to see how things were. The man recognized his footsteps and said, “You the one who changed my sign this morning. What did you write? ” (Ibid)

The man said, ” I only wrote the truth. I said what you said but in a different way.”  I wrote: ‘Today is a beautiful day but I cannot see it.’” (Ibid) storyofsign-1

The first sign simply said the man was blind. The second sign told people how fortunate they were that they could see.  That’s what made the difference.

It made people aware that they should be grateful and why they should help that man.  They gave out of gratitude.

There is beauty all around us: the smile on a child’s face, a sunrise, Canadian Geese flying in formation as they honk sounds of encouragement to each other.

It’s a beautiful thing to stand back and appreciate something you’ve accomplished and feel the satisfaction of a day’s work.

There’s beauty in planting a garden and watching God work through the cycle of a season. The seeds break through the earth.  God sends the rains to nourish the plants. He sends the bees, butterflies, and wasps to pollinate the blooms. Then we begin to see evidence of the crop we will one day harvest and bring to the table where we will say a prayer of gratitude.

It’s a beautiful thing to watch an artist, a painter, a potter, a craftsman, or a seamstress at work. They have an image in their mind and they create a product from raw materials with their hands.  It’s a reminder that we are created in the image of God, who  first took the dust of the ground, which he created out of nothing, and created humankind and breathed life into us.  That’s a beautiful thing.

As much as we like to think that we are the providers of all that we have, were it not for God sustaining this world and doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves, there would be no earth; there would be no rain; there would be no food; there would be no us.

We can’t make it rain, as we have been reminded during this drought.  We can’t make the crops grow, even though we can help. Yet how many times are we guilty of failing to acknowledge the Lord as the giver of all good things, for the meals we eat, the clothes we wear, the house we live in?

God is not only the provider, God is a merciful God.  The Bible says that he sends the rain to the just and the unjust.

The unjust will not acknowledge God as the giver of all good things. In fact, you would expect the unjust to take credit for their good fortune and all that they have. But what about the just?

One thing that should separate the just from the unjust is the acknowledgement that God is the source of all blessings.  The just should have hearts of gratitude knowing that God is where  blessings originate.

Yet the practice gratitude isn’t a habit among us all.

The story in Matthew 18 about the just and unjust servant makes it clear that our gratitude or lack of gratitude has a direct correlation to our worship of God.

The servant who had his debt forgiven by the king wasn’t grateful enough to do the same for a man who owed him far less money.

If we are grateful for what God has done for us and with us, then our gratitude should be reflected in our relationships with other people, specifically those who are in debt to us, those who have wronged us and seek our forgiveness.

Gratitude to God becomes the catalyst for our just actions toward others.

If we are grateful to God for what he has done then it will be reflected in our generosity to others.

In Matthew 18, a man was owed ten dollars and could by law demand that his debtor pay up.  If the man didn’t pay, his loaner could have him thrown in jail until the debt was paid.  In this case, that is what he did.

I don’t know how a debt can be paid if a man is in jail and he cannot work to pay it off. That might be the point. The man who was owed the debt wasn’t as concerned about being repaid as he was with taking punitive action toward his debtor.

This underscores his own lack of gratitude toward the king.  Notice that the king didn’t just let him go to work toward paying off his debt; the king actually wiped the books clean so he didn’t have any more debt.

Initially the king had threatened to have the man, his wife, and children sold on the auction block as slaves until the man begged for additional time to pay back the debt.

The king could have said, “O.K., I’m giving you one more week, or one more month.”  But instead, the king was touched by the poor man’s plea and he forgave the entire debt.

Just how big was this debt? The King James Version says it was ten thousand talents. The Message Bible says that is one hundred thousand dollars.

But let’s dig a little deeper. A talent typically averaged about 33 kilograms or 75 pounds. In February 2016, the price of silver was about $15 per ounce, so a 33-kilogram silver talent would be worth about $16,500.

Now Jesus said in his story that the poor man owed the king 10,000 talents. Today, that would come to $165,000,000.

How can anyone pay back $165,000,000?  When you have nothing, no one can pay back that kind of money. That is the point of this story.

The kind of debt this man had could not have ever been paid back in his lifetime.  That’s the kind of debt the king forgave—a debt so big it that he couldn’t have ever repaid at all.

What happens after that? The poor man forgets what the king did for him by demanding “his fellow servant who owed him ten dollars pay up. He seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’”

When he couldn’t pay up he had him arrested and put in jail.  This man had an ungrateful heart.   It was reflected in the way he treated the man who begged him for mercy.

When the king heard about this, he became furious with him and he changed how the status of their relationship.  He called him in and told him that because of the mercy that had been extended to him, he should have extended that kind of mercy to the one who owed to him.

Because of his ungratefulness of what he had received and his unwillingness to pass on that kind of generosity, the king handed him over to the jailers till he could pay his debt.  Because of the enormity of his debt, we can safely assume that day never came.

Are you a grateful person? Are you thankful to God for what he has given to you? Do other people know that you worship and praise God for the blessings that you have?  They know if you are passing those blessings on to others.

So, take a moment and take inventory of the people you walk by every day because a lot of them are blind.

They cannot see what you can see.

A lot of them are deaf. They cannot hear what you can hear.

A lot of them are insensitive.   They cannot feel the presence of the Holy Spirit.

They sit and they wait for an insensitive world to feel guilty enough to drop a little help into their lives that will only sustain them for a little while.

What will be different about the help that you give them?

According to Jesus, it should be motivated by gratitude.  We are people who have been forgiven.  We are regenerated people.

We are people who should be grateful first and foremost that God has taken a debt of sin away from us that we could never repay in a lifetime.  We could never do enough of good things to make up from the wrong things we have done.  We could never make the balance work in our favor.

God has said, “I’ll take care of the debt.  Jesus paid for it on the cross.  He gave his life to cancel out your sins.  God raised him from the dead to assure you that he was God.”

The Holy Spirit that lives within us is our constant reminder of that beauty.   If the Holy Spirit lives within us, we should have hearts of gratitude.

If we are truthful, we must confess that sometimes we slide back.  How do I know?  I know because of the way we treat other people.   Instead of being grateful for what God has done for us, we are just grateful that we are not that other person and we move on.

This isn’t about helping every beggar with a sign that stands beside the road. This is about being thankful enough to treat other people the way we would want to be treated and doing it out of an overflowing gratitude to God because God has been more than gracious to us.  This is about is about doing what Jesus prayed about in the Lord’s prayer: “Forgive us of our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.”

It’s really as simple as that, and as hard to live as that.