Sunday, August 30, 2020

Matthew 18.21-25: As We Are Forgiven

How many times should we forgive? (Matthew 18:21-25) Think about the nuances of the question if it is changed slightly: How many times do I have to forgive? Have to or should, Jesus' answer is the same: there's no number. You must forgive as many times as God forgave by sending Jesus in human form to die for us. Oh. 

The parable Jesus tells drives home the fact that we are obligated to forgive others if we ourselves have been forgiven. If the language sounds familiar, I'm sure that's not by accident. Earlier in Matthew's gospel, when the disciples asked Jesus how they should pray, his model included the phrase "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." 

The connection between the parable and the petition is clear in the relief panels of the bronze doors on the Grossmunster in Zurich, Switzerland. Construction began on the church about the year 1100 and was completed about 1220. The Grossmunster became a Protestant church under the leadership of Huldryc (Huldrich? Huldrych? Ulrich?) Zwingli. Zwingli was succeeded by Heinrich Bullinger. 

The doors on the south portal are, of course, much more contemporary. Created by German sculptor Otto Munch in 1950, the two scenes show the same servant as debtor and debt-holder. In the background the servant stands before his master. In the foreground, the servant stands above the man in his debt. The man, on his hands and knees, begs for time to repay the debt. The answer comes from the figure standing ramrod straight, his right arm crossed over his chest and his left hand making a fist. None of this implies any conciliatory gesture. 

The architectural structure between the foreground and background provides the "as you have been forgiven" element. The post supports the ceiling over the two background figures (the ceiling might also be the floor of a second story to the "building"). The post and floor/ceiling create a cross, a reminder of God's work in Jesus Christ. 

This panel is one of a series that illustrates the petitions of the Lord's Prayer. The need for forgiveness gives rise to the obligation to forgive. We who have been forgiven much, should forgive much. 

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