Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | September 17, 2017

2017.09.17 “God Give Us Magic Eyes” – Matthew 18: 21 – 35

Central United Methodist Church
God Give Us Magic Eyes
Pastor David L. Haley
Matthew 18: 21 – 35
September 17th, 2017

Forgive 7 x 70


At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?”

Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.

“The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market.

“The poor wretch threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.

“The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’

 “The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ But he wouldn’t do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king.

“The king summoned the man and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’ The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.”

– Matthew 18: 21 – 35, The Message


One of the movies which – once you see, you will never forget – is the 1979 science-fiction horror film Alien, by director Ridley Scott. Alien stars Sigourney Weaver, and other such as Harry Dean Stanton, who died this week at the age of 91. The film’s title refers to a highly aggressive extraterrestrial that stalks and attacks the crew of a spaceship, one by one.

In one unforgettable scene, after one of the actors (John Hurt) collapses, a baby alien erupts horrifyingly from his chest. (After this scene you will never see John Hurt (who also just died this year) in any other movie without feeling sorry for him.)

Oddly, this was the image that came to mind as I thought about today’s text, about the touchy topic of forgiveness. Congregations are full of people who know we should forgive, who know there is a value in doing so, but who find it impossible to do. Being abandoned or abused by a parent, cheated on by a spouse, or double crossed by a business partner, as examples, are experiences that never leave you. On the contrary, they sit deep inside and fester, until one day in an conversation in a living room or hospital room or anywhere, it erupts – like that alien – as well as the extent and depth of the hurt. Forgive? We’re working on it. Or not.

As an example, when I first moved to Skokie from West Chicago, I went looking for a barber. In the past, I’m used to interesting, lively, sometimes shop-wide conversations. This barber cut my hair and never said one word the whole time, not to me, not to the other barber in the next chair. Turns out, as I heard later, the other barber was his brother, and somewhere along the way they had a falling out, and do not speak to each other! I never went back; I figure I have enough discord to deal with in my life, I don’t need a mad barber with a straight razor near my throat. (They already made a musical about that, Sweeney Todd).

We might shake our heads in disbelief, but we know people who can’t forgive even small things not to mention BIG things, we might even be one of them ourselves. Lewis Smedes, who I’m going to talk more about later, says: “Forgiveness is the hardest trick in the bag of personal relationships.”

Before deep psychic wounds became the work of counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists, they were viewed as moral, even theological issues. And, since our religion and faith has also to do with our relationships with each other, rightfully so.

In our Judeo-Christian tradition, the argument goes like this: since we have all fallen short of the standards of a just and holy God, we are all in need of forgiveness. But since God has also been revealed as not only just and holy, but merciful, our sins have been forgiven. Amazingly, God has chosen mercy over justice; this is why it’s called amazing grace.

But then the other shoe drops: because we have been forgiven, we are to forgive others. In other words, our forgiveness of each other is rooted in God’s forgiveness of  us. Jesus even went so far as to put it in the prayer he taught us to pray every day (maybe he thought it was something we would need to be reminded of every day): “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”  We pray it, we know it, but to do it? As we all know from experience, that is the HARD thing.

In today’s Gospel, Peter (our mouthpiece and spokesman), raises the issue with Jesus, after Jesus had raised the issue of what to do about those who sin against us. “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive?” “Seven times?” After all, that would cover every day of the week.

But Jesus replies, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.” We’re not off the hook after the 490th time, but infinitely. Not good news to those of us who have trouble getting past just ONE very bad slight. What are we to do?

To convince Peter and us, Jesus tells one of his maddening little stories, called parables, stories which delight us and confuse us and maybe even outrage us. This one is called the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.

In many ways, it is an outrageous story. What was with that guy? After the $100,000 he’s had been forgiven, he couldn’t forgive a measly $10 bucks?

And what does it mean? Does it mean that if I do not forgive those who injure me, God will withhold forgiveness from me? Is God’s forgiveness conditional on me letting go of grudges and hurts? Am I in trouble? Or is the point that human forgiveness of small things is rooted in God’s forgiveness of big things? In the story, the King forgives the servant an incalculable amount: 10,000 talents would be the wages of a day laborer for more than 150,000 years. Meaning, there is no way to measure God’s generosity when it comes to forgiving. Seventy-times-seven doesn’t do it; neither does 10,000 talents. Forgiveness cannot be measured on a calendar or calculator.

What’s missing most of all in the story is a changed attitude, which Lewis Smedes once called “magic eyes.” “Magic eyes’ are what we need to see both life and people – including those people who we feel have wronged us – in such a way that we might begin to forgive.

In this story, there is none of this. On hearing his reprieve, there is no rejoicing, no gratitude, no celebration with wife and children, who are spared imprisonment, no reflection on his new freedom. All we hear is that on the way out he rebuffs the plea of another, for much less than he had been forgiven. He does not have the gift of magic eyes, to see himself as a gifted person, the recipient of mercy rather than justice. What the parable really portrays is the incredible kindness of God, who surprises us by not dealing with us acording to justice, but mercy. And then asks us, whether we will view others in the same way, not with justice, but mercy.

So yes, forgiveness is a theological issue we have to think through, a psychological issue we have to work through, but perhaps more than anything else, forgiveness is a spiritual issue requiring a change of heart, “magic eyes” through which we can see others, especially those who have hurt us.

Forgive & forgetThe best book about forgiveness that I know of – other than the Bible – was written by the late Lewis Smedes, a former professor of theology and ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA. It is called, Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve, and has now sold over 500,000 copies. (Smedes died in 2001 at the age of 81 after falling off a ladder). I have a copy somewhere, but I searched both my office and house and cannot find it. I probably gave it away to someone struggling with forgiveness; if I had known it was so good when I bought it I would have bought a case.

Like Jesus, Smedes begins with a parable; you should not be surprised to hear it’s entitled: “The Magic Eyes.”

“In the village of Faken in innermost Friesland there lived a long thin baker name Fouke, a righteous man, with a long thin chin and a long thin nose. Fouke was so upright that he seemed to spray righteousness from his thin lips over everyone who came near him; so the people of Faken preferred to stay away. Fouke’s wife, Hilda, was short and round, her arms were round, her bosom was round, her rump was round. Hilda did not keep people at bay with righteousness; her soft roundness seemed to invite them instead to come close to her in order to share the warm cheer of her open heart. Hilda respected her righteous husband, and loved him too, as much as he allowed her; but her heart ached for something more from him than his worthy righteousness. And there, in the bed of her need, lay the seed of sadness.

One morning, having worked since dawn to knead his dough for the ovens, Fouke came home and found a stranger in his bedroom lying on Hilda’s round bosom. Hilda’s adultery soon became the talk of the tavern and the scandal of the Faken congregation. Everyone assumed that Fouke would cast Hilda out of his house, so righteous was he. But he surprised everyone by keeping Hilda as his wife, saying he forgave her as the Good Book said he should. In his heart of hearts, however, Fouke could not forgive Hilda for bringing shame to his name. Whenever he thought about her, his feelings toward her were angry and hard; he despised her as if she were a common whore. When it came right down to it, he hated her for betraying him after he had been so good and so faithful a husband to her. He only pretended to forgive Hilda so that he could punish her with his righteous mercy.

But Fouke’s fakery did not sit well in heaven. So each time that Fouke would feel his secret hated toward Hilda, an angel came to him and dropped a small pebble, hardly the size of a shirt button, into Fouke’s heart. Each time a pebble dropped, Fouke would feel a stab of pain like the pain he felt the moment he came on Hilda feeding her hungry heart from a stranger’s larder. Thus he hated her the more; his hate brought him pain and his pain made him hate. The pebbles multiplied. And Fouke’s heart grew very heavy with the weight of them, so heavy that the top half of his body bent forward so far that he had to strain his neck upward in order to see straight ahead. Weary with hurt, Fouke began to wish he were dead.

The angel who dropped the pebbles into his heart came to Fouke one night and told him how he could be healed of his hurt. There was one remedy, he said, only one, for the hurt of a wounded heart. Fouke would need the miracle of the magic eyes. He would need eyes that could look back to the beginning of his hurt and see his Hilda, not as a wife who betrayed him, but as a weak woman who needed him. Only a new way of looking at things through the magic eyes could heal the hurt flowing from the wounds of yesterday.

Fouke protested. “Nothing can change the past,” he said. “Hilda is guilty, a fact that not even an angel can change.” “Yes, poor hurting man, you are right,” the angel said. “You cannot change the past, you can only heal the hurt that comes to you from the past. And you can heal it only with the vision of the magic eyes.”

“And how can I get your magic eyes?” pouted Fouke. “Only ask, desiring as you ask, and they will be given you. And each time you see Hilda through your new eyes, one pebble will be lifted from your aching heart.”

Fouke could not ask at once, for he had grown to love his hatred. But the pain of his heart finally drove him to want and to ask for the magic eyes that the angel had promised. So he asked. And the angel gave.

Soon Hilda began to change in front of Fouke’s eyes, wonderfully and mysteriously. He began to see her as a needy woman who loved him instead of a wicked woman who betrayed him. The angel kept his promise; he lifted the pebbles from Fouke’s heart, one by one, though it took a long time to take them all away. Fouke gradually felt his heart grow lighter; he began to walk straight again, and somehow his nose and his chin seemed less thin and sharp than before. He invited Hilda to come into his heart again, and she came, and together they began again a journey into their second season of humble joy. (Lewis M. Smedes, Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve, Harper, 1984)

Through struggle and parable, through divine grace and human help, may God – who has forgiven us – give us the magic eyes we need to forgive others. Amen.


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