48 - To Forgive From the Heart, Aug 24, 2014

II Corinthians 9:2-12

Matthew 18:23-35

 “The Kingdom of Heaven,” says the LORD, “is like a certain King.” The King, of course, is the LORD Jesus Christ. He is the true King of Israel. The name, Israel, means, “Prince of God,” or even “He who sees God.”

Now, to be baptized into the Church is to be “illumined”, to become an “epoptes” (II Pt 1:16), “one whose eyes have been opened” to see the LORD, an Israelite. For, when we are baptized and we receive the Faith of the Church the heavens are opened to us. (Mat 3:16) We say the Creed of the Church as our own, and, like St John the Baptist who heard the voice of the Father, calling Jesus His Beloved Son, and who saw the Spirit descending on Jesus in confirmation of the Father’s voice, so also we are given to see God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We receive the Faith of the Church and we receive Jesus Christ as our King (Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan was also His heavenly coronation) and we become Israelites, servants of the King.

This King, the LORD’s parable goes on to say, “willed to settle accounts” – as it is given in some translations – “with His servants.” The verb translated, “to settle,” means also, “to take up with.” It is, in fact, the same word in the LORD’s command to those who would follow Him: to “take up” their cross. But here, of course, it says that the King “willed to take up the account with His servants.”

This “account” that the King wants to take up with His servants begins to look very much like the Cross. It takes us back to that moment when the LORD, having turned His face to Jerusalem, was making His way to His Cross and said to His disciples: “If anyone wishes to be my disciple, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” That is, take up yourcross and Christ, your King, will take it up with you.

In fact, the word translated as “account” is “logos”. Christ is the Logos, the Word of God who was in the beginning with the Father. (Jn 1:1) Moreover, Christ is the “Image of God” (Col 1:15, II Cor 4:4) in whom man was created, (Gn 1:26-28) so that, according to the theological Tradition of the Church, our having been created in the Image of God is the logos of our being; i.e., the irreducible principle that makes us human. And, the principle or logos of the image of God in which we were created is the capacity to receive God, to become partakers of the divine nature, in the words of St Peter. (II Pet 1:4)   

In our parable this morning, the King, Our LORD Jesus Christ, willed to take up the logos of His servants. He willed to take up the image in which His servants had been created but which had fallen into death and corruption through sin, (Rm 5:12) making us partakers of death (Heb 2:14), fallen under the power of the devil, and not partakers of the divine nature. Our parable this morning, then, is referring to the will of God to become flesh and to dwell among us, to become partakers with us in our flesh and blood even to the point of sharing with us in our death, so that He might destroy the power of the devil over us and free us, save us, so that we would no longer be servants of the devil and of sin but servants of the King, Christ our God and of His righteousness, which never dies. (Wisd of Sol 1:15 & 5:15).

So, they brought to the King a servant who owed Him “ten thousand talents,” it says; more literally, “who owed Him a myriad of talents,” or a countless, innumerable sum because, we now see, the servant owed the King, the Logos of God in whom all things were made, his very being. It is of incalculable worth because its logos, its principle, is having been created in the image of God in the capacity to become a partaker of the divine nature.

Our parable this morning, then, seems to set before us the image of our King, the LORD Jesus Christ, on the Cross.  The servant “brought before the King” is us at our baptism. In the catechumenate, we learn how much we are indebted to the LORD who created us in His image. In the sacrament of confession that prepares us for baptism, we ask the LORD for mercy. And when we are immersed in the waters of our baptism the King of Israel forgives us our all our debts. He destroys our death by His death and to us who were in the tombs, “dead in our sins and trespasses,” He gives life, having “bought us” with “ten thousand” or a myriad of talents – i.e., having bought us with a price, His own precious blood.

It says that the servant owed the King. This is the same word given in the Lord ’s Prayer, when we are directed to pray: “Forgive us our debts, the myriad of talents we owe you,as we forgive our debtors, those who owe us.” In the parable, the servant who was forgiven the myriad of talents he owed the King refuses to forgive one who owes him only a hundred denarii, a pittance. Who can possibly owe us as much as we owe the LORD? He has forgiven us all, even raising us from death to life and enriching us with the glory and virtues of His own divine nature. (I Cor 1:5; II Pt 1:4)

The parable reminds Christians who believe they are true Israelites, those who have seen God, that the mercy of our King and LORD is the logos, the image of the cross that governs us. But, I wonder if the reminder isn’t much more pointed, and if it isn’t actually given in the very hard saying that closes the parable: “So will my Father do to you if you, each one, do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

I wonder if the point of this parable is precisely that none of us can forgive our brother from our heart for the simple reason that we have not found our heart. The logos that governs us is the law of sin that is active in our members (Rom 7:14ff), covering our heart with the hard stone of our lust, our anger, our greed, our deep spiritual pride, so that we cannot forgive from the heart. I am reminded of what the disciples said when they heard the LORD say that it was harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. “Who, then, can be saved?” Who of us has such a heart that we can forgive our brother?

I therefore think the LORD’s saying might be the command to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Christ. For, only by taking up our cross and following the LORD in obedience will we put to death the law of sin that is active in us and find the logos of the King in our heart that makes us who and what we are. Then, we will be able to forgive from the heart.

A critical piece of the ascetic struggle to find our deep heart is to be mindful, to remember in thanksgiving, in Holy Eucharist, what the LORD has done for us in His Holy Church – in His Body that is the fullness of Christ who fills all in all. In this Eucharistic mind of the Church, our eyes are opened to see that we cannot forgive our brother from our heart because of the law of sin active in us, the law of spiritual pride that closes us off from our ‘deep heart’. In that mindfulness, we no longer dissemble. We confess our sin, our hardness of heart, to the LORD; and then, for the sake of Christ, we forgive our brother simply out of obedience to Christ. Forgiving our brother, even though we do not want to, even though we cannot do it from our heart, then, becomes a part of our ascetic discipline; for in so doing, we deny ourselves for the sake of obedience to Christ. It becomes part of our struggle to fulfill the oath of our baptism to unite ourselves to Christ. And so, uniting ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death, He unites us to Himself in the likeness of His Holy Resurrection. And He it is who rolls the stone away from our heart and creates in us a clean heart in a new and right spirit, a new heart of flesh that is capable of being “enlarged” to its fullest capacity to become a partaker of the King’s own divine nature. His Image restored in us in the logos of our being, in His Holy Resurrection we are able to forgive all things and to call, “brother”, even those who hate us. Amen.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us! Glory to Jesus Christ!