September 13, 2020

Thoughtful spot – Trinity 14 – Revd Michael Beesley


Genesis 50 vv.15-21: After his father Jacob’s death, when Joseph had become a popular leader in Egypt, his brothers feared he might take revenge on them for selling him as a slave when he was young. They begged him for mercy, saying they’d be his slaves. Joseph said he was not a judge like God and they have nothing to fear from him because he was part of God’s plan to save the people of Egypt from famine. He says he will now look after them.    

Romans 14 vv.1-12: St Paul argues that it’s wrong for different groups of Christians to criticise one another for expressing their faith in different ways, for example, by what they eat or the special days they observe. They must respect one another’s commitment and be accountability to God’s judgement.

St Matthew 18 v.21-35: Peter asks Jesus if a member of the church goes on doing him wrong, how many times should he forgive that person. Jesus says there should be no limit to forgiveness. He emphasises this with the story of a slave whose master forgives him a huge debt when he begs for mercy; but that slave refuses to forgive a fellow slave who owes him a small amount of money. The first slave would be punished severely for being so unforgiving.

Today’s Bible readings highlight the Good News that God always wants to forgive us when we repent; and wants us to be as merciful and forgive those who say they are sorry for harming or upsetting us, and we mustn’t hold grudges against them.

In the passage from Genesis, we are reminded that Joseph’s’ brothers sold him to an Egyptian slave trader because they were jealous of him. They wanted to get rid of him because they thought their father, Jacob, favoured Joseph more than them, for example, when he gave Joseph the coat of many colours.

Later, Joseph achieved high status in Egypt and became popular because he predicted and helped the Egyptians to avoid a massive famine which devastated all the surrounding countries, including Israel. Joseph brought Jacob and his brothers to Egypt to save them from starvation in Israel.

As we heard in today’s reading, when Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers feared Joseph would take revenge on them for selling him as a slave.

Believing that he must hold a grudge against them, they pleaded for mercy, saying they would now be his slaves.

Joseph said, out of his suffering, God had brought goodness for numerous people; and, therefore, he wanted to be good to them and look after them and their children, as the people of Israel grew to become a great nation.

In a similar way, St Paul tells Christians in Rome that they must not judge or hold grudges against fellow Christians because they express their faith in different ways; for example, by being vegetarian or meat-eaters; or by keeping different festival days on which to celebrate their faith.

St Paul says we should not pass judgement on our brothers and sisters in the church, for God is the only true judge and it is to God that each of us is accountable for the way we live and express our faith.

In the St Matthew passage, we heard a discussion between Peter and Jesus. Peter wanted to know how many times he should forgive a member of the Christian community if that person offends him. Is seven times enough?  Jesus replies: ”Not seven, but seventy-seven times!”

In other words, there must be no limit to forgiveness.

Jesus uses a parable to stress the importance of forgiveness. He says His heavenly Father is like a slave owner. One of his slaves begs for mercy for not being able to pay him back a huge debt.  The owner forgives the slave all he owes. Jesus goes on to say His heavenly Father would judge severely that slave if he didn’t forgive but threw a fellow slave into a debtors’ prison who begged for mercy because he couldn’t pay back a small debt.

In other words, Jesus says Our Father God is wonderful with forgiveness when we repent and appeal for His mercy for our sins and failings.

In the same way, God expects us to be forgiving to anyone who says she or he is sorry for something they’ve done to hurt or upset us.

Unfortunately, there are families today, like Joseph’s, which fall out so badly that any reconciliation seems impossible. If the person who’s caused the  break-up has the humility to ask for forgiveness, it may need a big heart in the one who’s been hurt to forgive and agree to make a fresh start. Jesus says that’s something we must do if anyone truly asks for our forgiveness.

Thinking of St Paul says, there are some Christians today who do judge others in different churches or denominations for ways in which they express their faith. For example, some, who prefer traditional ways of worship, are very critical of Pentecostal Christians with their more animated “happy clappy” types of worship.  And, of course, there have been times in history when Roman Catholics and Protestants have even gone to war because they violently opposed the different ways they understood and practised their faith.

St Paul says “Don’t take God’s place as the judge”.

The most powerful teaching about forgiveness this morning comes from Jesus Himself. His parable of the master and his two slaves makes it clear that all of us must recognise that we can never pay God back for the huge debt of our sinfulness and failure to be what God means us to be.

However, when we are truly sorry, and are honest with God about our sinfulness and need for forgiveness, God is always merciful, and draws a line under it to give us a new beginning. It’s truly wonderful that God is always ready to forgive us seventy-times seven, in other words, endlessly, whenever we turn to Him in repentance and pray, “Father, forgive me my sins”.

But it doesn’t stop there. Jesus tells us that if we are blessed to know God’s forgiveness, then we must be prepared to forgive our fellow human beings when they say they are sorry for harming or hurting us.

Jesus certainly practiced what He preached,

He even prayed to The Father to forgive the soldiers as they were nailing Him to the cross, because He said they did not realise the evil they were doing.

Now, in a minute of silence, let’s be honest with God about our own sinfulness and the way we fail to be what God wants us to be; and pray with humility “Father, forgive me my sins”. Then, bring to mind someone who may need our forgiveness and, as we pray: “As we forgive those who sin against us”, hear Jesus tell us what we must do to forgive her or him and put things right between us.

Finally, let’s pray for God’s ongoing forgiveness with words from this hymn by John Whittier:

 Dear Lord and Father of mankind,

forgive our foolish ways;

re-clothe us in our rightful mind,

in purer lives thy service find,

in deeper reverence, praise.   Amen