September 3, 2017
The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity
He has waded through sewers, peeled roadkill, moved houses, castrated horses, and cleaned up monumental septic explosions. He did the jobs that most of us couldn’t bear to do, although we know how important they are.
His name is Mike Rowe, and he’s the star of the Discovery Channel show called, Dirty Jobs. Though you can occasionally watch reruns, the show ended just a few years ago.
Rowe tried his hand at more than 165 of the dirtiest and most disgusting jobs one could possibly imagine. He served slop to pigs, removed bones from fish, hunted plagues of vermin, and sloshed around in sewers — sometimes vomiting on camera. He would get coached by the people who do these jobs for a living, and gets mocked by them as well.
But there’s something going on here that goes deeper than dirty hands. Mike Rowe has real curiosity about challenging jobs, and respect for the men and women who do them. The show sends a powerful message, such as dignity in hard work, expertise in unexpected places and deep satisfaction in tackling and finishing a tough job.
That’s a message we need to hear today.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Peter walks up to Jesus and says, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus answers, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”
Forgiveness. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it. It’s not necessarily a “dirty job,” but it is a tough job. And, according to Jesus, they’ve got to do it again and again and again and again — seventy-seven times. To make matters worse, the word used by Jesus to describe this extravagant forgiveness can also be translated “seventy times seven,” which means 490 stinking times.
By comparison, sloshing around in a sewer doesn’t seem so bad.
Jesus is calling us to roll up our sleeves and do some very demanding work. In our justice-oriented world, we expect that insults are going to be followed by apologies and crimes are going to be followed by punishments, but Jesus turns this system upside down by saying, “Just forgive!” Notice that Jesus doesn’t even expect the sinner to repent or make amends. Forgive them, orders Jesus — “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” Maybe 490 times. The point is; your forgiveness should be beyond calculation.
Well, that stinks, doesn’t it? Enduring hundreds of hurts, and then offering hundreds of expressions of forgiveness. Sounds about as pleasant as what Mike Rowe goes through every week — getting seasick in eel boats, attacked by monkeys and lowered into storm drains.
It’s a dirty job.
Now some will object to this open-ended approach to forgiveness, saying that it turns Christians into doormats, fails to hold sinners accountable, and invites abusers to continue their abuse. They’ve got a point, and it’s hard to imagine that Jesus wants us to throw justice completely out the window. But still he says, “Forgive.” Not just seven times, but dozens or even hundreds of times. Jesus is saying that forgiveness is at the heart of life in the church — it creates a distinctively merciful community.
Why is this?
The parable of the unforgiving servant answers this question by revealing the reason we must offer forgiveness to one another. It has nothing to do with the pursuit of justice, and everything to do with the character of God. Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven “may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.” So Jesus is saying that we can learn a little something about life in God’s kingdom by paying attention to a story about how this king deals with his debtors.
The king begins the reckoning by calling a debtor to appear before him. The man owes him 10,000 talents, which is an insanely large sum of money. A talent is the largest monetary unit of the day, equal to the wages of a manual laborer for 15 years. 10,000 talents would be the wages of 10,000 manual laborers, over the course of 15 years. By comparison, notes biblical scholar Eugene Boring, the annual tax income for all of the territories of Herod the Great was 900 talents per year. Ten thousand talents would exceed the taxes for all of the countries of Syria, Phoenicia, Judea and Samaria. (That’s a lot of coins! St. Francis could use some of those talents right now so we can stay open!)
So this man is more than knee-deep in debt. He’s over his head, drowning in red ink, sinking like a rock. Makes the sub-prime mortgage crisis a few years ago look like a problem with petty cash. (Sounds like your bishop! Geesh, so personal this Gospel reading is!)
The king orders the slave to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, so that a payment can be made. With nothing left to lose, the slave falls on his knees before the king and says, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” Surprisingly, the king shows pity and releases the slave, forgiving him the entire debt.
That’s the kind of God we have, says Jesus — a king who has mercy on us, and who forgives us our debts. It’s a dirty job, but we’ve got a God who will do it!
Now that’s a pleasant parable, but we haven’t reached the end. That freshly forgiven slave races out of the palace and comes upon a second slave who owes him a hundred denarii — 100 coins basically, each one equal to the daily wage for a laborer. This amount is a significant sum, for sure, but it’s positively microscopic compared to what the first slave owed the king. The first slave seizes the second slave by the throat and demands that he pay him what he owes. The second slave falls down and pleads with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.”
No way, says the first slave. Not gonna happen. He throws the second slave in prison until the whole debt is paid.
Here, the plot thickens. Almost as exciting as prime time television, isn’t it? When his fellow slaves see what has happened, they go ballistic — they run and give the king a full report. The king summons the first slave and says, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. You think that was easy for me? I had about as much fun as Mike Rowe performing a whale autopsy. Why didn’t you show mercy to your fellow slave, as I did to you?”
The slave is speechless. He could have hit Twitter running like Trump, but he didn’t. He had nothing to say; he knew he was caught.
Then, in his anger, the king hands him over to spread hot tar on the roof of a church in California, like in Dirty Jobs episode 110. And the slave is tortured by this work until he pays his entire debt. (Incidentally, we don’t need our roof tared, but we could use a new a/c and a little extra to pay the bills.)
The punch line? Jesus concludes with the words, “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” There’s an unbreakable bond between the forgiveness of God and the forgiveness we are to offer one another, making it illogical and impossible for us to accept the mercy of the Lord and then refuse to extend mercy to others. Jesus summarizes this quite succinctly in his teaching of the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
Forgive us our debts — that’s what we ask of God. As we have forgiven our debtors — that’s what we offer our neighbors. In the divine economy of the kingdom of heaven, you can’t have one without the other.
Our Lord is a merciful God who is willing to do the dirty work of blotting out our transgressions, washing us from our iniquity, and cleansing us from our sin. That’s a job that would overwhelm a tough guy like Mike Rowe, even if he were walking around in a hazmat suit. But God is betting that we have been transformed by his forgiveness into the kind of people who can do the hard work of forgiving others. God knows that his mercy can have a surprising and wonderful effect — it can create a community of merciful people. We knew the rules and we broke them, yet God continues to offer His mercy and forgive us every – single - time! How crazy is that??!!
God came down to earth and put on human form in the person of Jesus – God humbled himself and became one of us dirty and sinful people; He took on our lowliness. Further still, God is willing to do the most disgusting of dirty jobs — the removal of our sin through his gift of forgiveness. All He asks is that we turn and do the same for others. Seven times. Seventy-seven times. Maybe even 490 times. Even every time!
There’s deep satisfaction in tackling and finishing a tough job.
Let us pray.
That those in civic authority will dedicate themselves to justice, peace, authentic freedom, and generous defense of the poor. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
Blessings on all students and teachers as they begin a new school year. We pray to the Lord.
That our parishes, animated by a missionary spirit, may be places where faith is communicated and charity is seen. We pray to the Lord.
For the sick, the hungry, orphans and widows, the homeless, those trapped sin, and those on the verge of despair; that God’s mercy will save them and that their struggles will be lessened. We pray to the Lord.
The grace this week to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. We pray to the Lord.
We ask You, Lord, to heal the racial unrest that continues in our nation; help each of us to have humble, loving and welcoming hearts. We pray to the Lord.
For the sick family members of our parishioners - Don Kuchka, Barbara Koko and Pattie Maruszewski; that they find healing and peace. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, You are our help. Your kindness is a greater good than life. May we bless You in our daily lives, always calling upon Your name. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.