Forgiveness for Bitter Days
- Thursday, September 27, 2007
Scripture Text: Matthew 18:21-35
You and I save things. Favorite photos, interesting articles — we all save things. Homer and Langley Collyer hoarded things. Everything. Newspapers, letters, clothing — you name it, they kept it.
Born in the late 1800s to an affluent Manhattan couple, the brothers lived in a luxurious three-story mansion at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 128th Street. Homer earned a degree in engineering; Langley became a lawyer. All seemed good in the Collyer family.
But then mom and dad divorced in 1909. The boys, now in their 20s, remained in the home with their mother. Crime escalated. The neighborhood deteriorated. Homer and Langley retaliated by escaping the world. For reasons that therapists discuss at dinner parties, the duo retreated into their inherited mansion, closed and locked the doors.
They were all but unheard of for nearly 40 years. Then in 1947 someone reported the suspicion of a dead body at their address. It took seven policemen to break down the door because the entrance was blocked by a wall of newspapers, folding beds, half a sewing machine, old chairs, part of a winepress and other pieces of junk. After several hours of digging, policemen found the body of Homer, seated on the floor, head between his knees, his long and matted gray hair reaching his shoulders.
But where was Langley? That question triggered one of the strangest searches in Manhattan history. Fifteen days of quarrying produced 103 tons of junk — gas chandeliers, a sawhorse, the chassis of an old car, a Steinway piano, a horse's jawbone and, finally, one missing brother. The stuff he'd kept had collapsed on and killed him.
Bizarre! Who wants to live with yesterday's rubble? Who wants to hoard the trash of the past? You don't, do you? Or do you?
Not in your house, mind you, but in your heart? Not the junk of papers and boxes, but the remnants of anger and hurt. Do you pack-rat pain? Amass offenses? Record slights?
A tour of your heart might be telling. A pile of rejections stockpiled in one corner. Accumulated insults filling another. Images of unkind people lining the wall, littering the floor.
No one can blame you. Innocence takers, promise breakers, wound makers — you've had your share. Yet doesn't it make sense to get rid of their trash? Want to give every day a chance? Jesus says: Give the grace you've been given.
Take a long look at his reply to Peter's question: "‘Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?'‘No,not seven times,'Jesus replied, ‘but seventy times seven!'" (Matthew 18:21-22).
That noise you hear is the sound of clicking calculators. Seventy times seven equals 490, we discover. My, I can legally get rid of my husband. He blew past this number on our honeymoon.
But then Jesus curtails our calibrated grace by relating a two-act play:
Act 1: God forgives the unforgivable.
Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn't pay, so his master ordered that he be sold — along with his wife, his children and everything he owned — to pay the debt (Matthew 18:23-25).
Such an immense debt. More literal translations say the servant owed 10,000 talents. One talent equaled 6,000 denarii. One denarius equaled one day's wage (Matthew 20:2). One talent, then, would equate to 6,000 days' worth of work. Ten thousand talents would represent 60 million days or 240,000 years of labor. A person earning $100 a day would owe $6 billion.
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