Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Imagine a World 7

posted by Scot McKnight

ImagineaWorld.jpgThe parables of Jesus summon us to the edge of the world in order to imagine a world that can only be called “kingdom.”

Parables are more than illustrations and more than stories making a point. Instead, they invite us into a storied world that has the power to transform the one who enters the storied world.
Jesus invites us to imagine a world where forgiveness shapes relationships. (Read the parable after the jump.)
Forgiveness, C.S. Lewis once observed, is a lovely idea until you have something to forgive. So true. 
But a world shaped by forgiveness is a shalom and love world. So, kingdom world. So Jesus.
The debt in this parable is incredible, so the storied world invites us to imagine a staggering story. The “king” is not a simple analogy of God. Instead, we are to enter the story to hear the whole story, to see the whole story, and to let the wholeness impact us. God stunningly forgives us of staggering debt, and God disapproves of those who fail to live out graciousness and forgiveness toward others. 
As Klyne Snodgrass puts it: “The kingdom comes with limitless grace in the midst of an evil world, but with it comes limitless demand” (72). [Stories With Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus
]
Thus forgiveness not shown is forgiveness not known (also from Klyne). 
We are called to forgive because we are called to shalom and love, and you can’t have complete shalom until you have reconciliation. Forgiveness is incredibly difficult at times, but it is always the goal of all those who follow Jesus into his imagined world of kingdom.


18:23 “For this reason, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. 18:24 As he began settling his accounts, a man who owed ten thousand talents was brought to him. 18:25 Because he was not able to repay it, the lord ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, children, and whatever he possessed, and repayment to be made. 18:26 Then the slave threw himself to the ground before him, saying, ‘Be patient with me, and I will repay you everything.’18:27 The lord had compassion on that slave and released him, and forgave him the debt. 18:28 After he went out, that same slave found one of his fellow slaves who owed him one hundred silver coins. So he grabbed him by the throat and started to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ 18:29 Then his fellow slave threw himself down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will repay you.’ 18:30 But he refused. Instead, he went out and threw him in prison until he repaid the debt.18:31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were very upset and went and told their lord everything that had taken place. 18:32 Then his lord called the first slave and said to him, ‘Evil slave! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me! 18:33 Should you not have shown mercy to your fellow slave, just as I showed it to you?’ 18:34 And in anger his lord turned him over to the prison guards to torture him until he repaid all he owed. 18:35 So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive your brother from your heart.”



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RJS

posted August 19, 2010 at 7:48 am


Wow. “So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive your brother from your heart.
Good thing Paul came along to set us straight and make it clear that the grace and forgiveness of God is something that does not depend on our action or response. Clearly Jesus did not mean what he said here – or in Mt 6:14-15 either (or in Mt 5 23-24 or in Mt 7).
Now this is a rather sarcastic response, I admit, and is probably open to misinterpretation. But it seems rather clear in the teaching of Jesus that our forgiveness of others is not optional. We need a heart rooted in forgiveness. We need to imagine such a world and act on it.



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Pat

posted August 19, 2010 at 8:12 am


“Forgiveness, C.S. Lewis once observed, is a lovely idea until you have something to forgive.”
Oh, so true. The walk of forgiveness can be difficult one when you have to swallow some pretty big (in your mind) offenses.



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T

posted August 19, 2010 at 8:23 am


RJS,
Ha! I sympathize! The “it doesn’t matter what you do” bit is clearly dispelled by Jesus here, and in the many other places you mention. This parable and the other passages really scared me as a teen, because I had the “faith” that Jesus died and rose, but not the kind that follows. I had responded to many of those “invitations” of the free gift divorced from the freeing life. I wish more folks would realize that Jesus isn’t talking about earning anything here, but that if we don’t trust God’s mercy enough to calm us down and allow us, even compel us, to be merciful, we just don’t trust mercy in the biblical sense of “trust.”
There is no faith in mercy that doesn’t do mercy; no faith in God’s forgiveness “in my heart” that doesn’t also forgive my brother “from my heart.”



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Scot McKnight

posted August 19, 2010 at 8:29 am


Yes, T, et al, I agree that there’s an act of God’s grace that can be used to explain this text, but Jesus’ words are clear and stronger perhaps than we suppose.
Jesus is urging his followers to enter into a world where forgiveness obtains or shapes all of life. We import the Pauline program when we ask of Jesus if forgiveness from God comes before we can forgive. One can say that, of course. But that’s not what Jesus is on about. He wants us to imagine a world and enter into that world where forgiveness becomes guiding music.



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T

posted August 19, 2010 at 8:53 am


I don’t mean–at all–to minimize the clear and strong warning Jesus gives. One can’t improve on its strength and clarity as written, and I affirm it fully, even if it still unnerves me a bit!
But are we really importing from Paul to ask or even conclude that God loves/forgives first, as opposed to just reading this passage on its own? The grace of the king, concerning the insurmountable debt of a slave, is the turning point and justification for the rest of the story, regardless of what Paul says or doesn’t say. The story doesn’t work without the king’s (large) grace going first. And, of course, the fact is that that’s our world, too.



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T

posted August 19, 2010 at 9:57 am


And, FWIW, I agree with you about Jesus’ intent for us entering a world where forgiveness, mercy, are guiding music. It is the primary feature of our existence, story and context.



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John W Frye

posted August 19, 2010 at 10:32 am


Scot, RJS and T,
Help me out here. In a pastoral ministry context I was deeply wounded by (felt betrayed by) long time friends in Christ. As a pastor, I read and preached the parable of this post. I do not want to harbor any *unforgiveness* in my soul…not an inkling. Yet, I can’t stand to even think of some of those folks; I don’t want to be around them and I don’t think that the relationship with them will ever be the same. Now, what do I do? Am I being unforgiving? This truly bothers me.



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T

posted August 19, 2010 at 10:49 am


John
A sincere thanks to you. I consistently admire your honesty. And you can tell me to shove it on this topic at your leisure.
That said, my first question would be what you actually hope for these people, not relationally with you, but regarding their overall good or ill? On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best God has to give people and one being hell itself, what do you hope these folks will experience?



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DRT

posted August 19, 2010 at 12:03 pm


Lots of out loud thinking follows:
Wow, this scared me enough this morning when I first read it that I have been bothered all morning. First, I am with John Frye in having been wounded in a church relationship, which I think I could forgive, but the way they handled it is that they will not talk and allow for any closure. That is the part that is stuck in me?.
Second, I have had the working hypothesis that god is not going to eternally punish and torment people in the final judgment. But:
18:34 And in anger his lord turned him over to the prison guards to torture him until he repaid all he owed. 18:35 So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive your brother from your heart.”
This gives some credibility to eternal torture, almost. He does say until he repaid all he owed, but it is still quite scary. What does he owe? And who are the prison guards? They are the ones doing the torturing, presumably they are others like us, not god, right? So is this consistent with my hypothesis that when the sorting takes place we will either choose god or cho0se the ways of the world. So if we chose the ways of the world we will basically be with others of our ilk (guards) and we will not find the true satisfaction that comes from choosing god.
And how does this relate to natural theology? What is the debt that god forgave? I still have a hard time thinking that my sins are the debt, isn?t it something more like the indebtedness for the gift of life and relationship? So this takes me back to natural theology in that we were given life and relationship so it should be obvious that we should be indebted to the creator. All the master wants is for the honesty to recognize our indebtedness and ask for his mercy?.
Thanks for the invitation Scot. I think I am going to try and live in this for awhile…there are lots of layers here.



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Matt B.

posted August 19, 2010 at 12:11 pm


Scot, John (7)- A timely post for me to read…currently going through some deeply fractured relationships with long time family friends within church in small, rural community. I have recently been removed from church, but while still living in same community, I daily see many of these people in this small town. Do I swallow my emotion, and speak the words of reconciliation before I feel like it, or can I pray for reconciliation from a distance?
When Jesus teaches us to forgive all offenses, what sort of timing does he require of us…immediate forgiveness, or a short respite for healing prior to forgiving?



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DRT

posted August 19, 2010 at 12:18 pm


Matt, one of the Pastors I have been speaking with put it as I needed a period of thoughtful prayer to discern what god wants.



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RJS

posted August 19, 2010 at 12:38 pm


John,
Wow, I may have come on a bit too strong in my original comment. As T said, you can tell me to shove it as well. But I think he is on to something in his comment. Forgiveness is hard and healing even harder. But we can (try to, pray for the ability to) foster an attitude of wishing the best for others even if a complete restoration of relationship is beyond us at this time.
There is a difference between trying and failing to live with an attitude of forgiveness, or succeeding only imperfectly – and not trying at all, living in an attitude of intentional unforgiveness – looking for our pound of flesh so to speak.



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Scot McKnight

posted August 19, 2010 at 1:07 pm


I’ve been tied up this morning and just getting to this.
John, key for me here are the following: the goal Jesus wants and calls us to imagine is reconciled relationships; some relationships can never be reconciled now (death, tragedies, etc) but will be on the Other Side; for those that could be, the Jesus vision is to want that and to work toward that, including forgiving by telling the truth clearly enough that genuine truthful reconciliation can occur; this process can be exceedingly difficult and can take time. When others see no problem or refuse to deal with the issues, no genuine reconciliation can occur. But we, we have been offended, can release them of their actions and so forgive them.
I wrote about this a bit in Jesus Creed in a chp on forgiveness.



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John W Frye

posted August 19, 2010 at 1:51 pm


Scot, T, RJS and others here,
Thanks, first, for your understanding and sensitive responses. I don’t feel the need to say “Shove it” to anyone. T, while I don’t think I wish anyone ill, I can’t say I’ve imagined the best for them either. I wrestle with this: Is a completely reconciled relationship (with those who hurt us) the marker of genuine forgiveness? Some say that forgiveness is one thing, reconciliation another. Scot encourages us to see reconciled relationships as the goal of forgiveness, knowing, of course, that reconciliation is a two-way street. I think I am comprehending more fully the cost of forgiveness and reconciliation. As has been stated, forgiveness is not an easy, fluffy thing to do. I find that we want those who hurt us to share in some kind of pain themselves. This is so not like Jesus.



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Matt B

posted August 19, 2010 at 4:52 pm


Oh, if we could “speak the truth in love.” And, for that to begin with me! Getting oneself healthy enough to face those to whom we need reconciliation is one thing; being present with and speaking truthfully to one another is another. There is a whole host of things that can make attempts at reconciliation turn south, and thus sometimes I find myself desiring to be miserable in my resentment of others.
An old pastor friend once helped me to see Romans 12:1 as useful, and I think it applies to this discussion. It is God’s mercy that allows a cracked-up sinner like me (including the cracked-up sinners, like the “jerks” I need to reconcile with) to offer my body sacrificially to His work. I have so many flaws (like the inability to forgive as Jesus did, as well as the inability to wish God’s best for those I consider to be “jerks”), yet God who is rich in mercy allows me to present this flawed body to His work, and acceptable in worship of Him. His mercy even accomplishes mighty things through my flaws (even through the “jerks” flaws). I must admit I don’t fully understand God’s ways, in fact it seems I hardly understand His ways…but in full view of His mercy my outlook on things changes. And that is helpful.



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Dana Ames

posted August 19, 2010 at 4:57 pm


John,
my best understanding of scripture, and my experience (including a very interesting and helpful several-day college credit class on Forgiveness given by a therapist from the next county) have led me to the conclusion that I must do everything from *my* side to be at peace with everyone, but I cannot force anyone to reconcile; that would not be love. So I can’t say that the marker of genuine forgiveness is a completely reconciled relationship with those who hurt us (assuming they are still alive).
Forgiveness comes from within *me*. It is *my* willingness and process with regard to “absorbing” the wrong done to me, just like Jesus did on the cross. In this sense, the Cross is the marker of genuine forgiveness: the Cross says, “Behold: God forgives; it’s done.” The Cross at work inside me enables me to forgive, to “let the other person off the hook”. We are not God, so for us, this takes some amount of time to work through.
One of the most helpful things I took away from that class was that a good indicator that you have forgiven someone is that you are entirely without upset when the person “strolls through your mind”. I don’t think God is keeping some kind of score card; I think he knows that we are in process with this, like so many other things, and he will help if we ask.
One of the most profound things in Orthodox life is the Sunday before the beginning of Lent; it’s called “Forgiveness Sunday”, because at Vespers (technically Monday) everyone in the congregation asks forgiveness of everyone else. We bow down or kneel before each person and say, “My Brother/Sister, forgive me.” And since we’re all in different places in our process, the response is not “I forgive you” (which could be dishonest in that moment), but, “God forgives”, which is always true at all times. Nobody’s policing anyone’s heart; this could be a superficial, perfunctory, “ritualistic” thing, but if it is, Lent is the time to deal with such an attitude, as we keep the Cross in view.
A hug to you, dear John.
Dana



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Jim Martin

posted August 19, 2010 at 4:58 pm


My comment is not exactly in line with this discussion. However, I just spent some time absorbing these comments. Very, very good. I appreciate, John, your candor and honesty. I also appreciate these responses, all of which remind me that this business of forgiving and reconciling (taking Jesus’ words seriously) is often very difficult and challenging when pain/hurt/injustice are involved.
Scot– Love the lines below regarding parables. I read these two sentences several times. They are very good!
Parables are more than illustrations and more than stories making a point. Instead, they invite us into a storied world that has the power to transform the one who enters the storied world.



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Ann F-R

posted August 20, 2010 at 1:20 am


After many years, I saw someone recently who threatened and harmed our family 10 or so years ago. We struggled to forgive this person because the effects of what she did reverberated for years, particularly in our then young children. I’m thankful for having begun work in reconciliation ministry at that time and being surrounded with others who helped me to walk through what it was to forgive, even though the person is gone – perhaps permanently – from our lives.
It was quite clear when all of us saw this person that our healthy & happy family testified to the power of God’s love and faithfulness. On the other hand, her inability to move past what she’d brought on herself was clearly evident in her aged face, angry eyes and stiff demeanor.
The contrast enables me to pray for her with greater compassion than ever before. I know our loving Father does not want that for her. I’m more grateful than ever before that I didn’t stay stuck in being unable to let go of her unwise actions and vindictive judgments. There was no joy, but only sorrow in the observation of her ongoing pain, anger and consequences of her foolishness. The Psalms say that those who dig a pit for others fall into it themselves.
Part of trusting God in the act of our forgiving is knowing that God’s justice is being worked out. May we let the Holy Spirit work God’s mercy into our hearts, too.



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