Matthew 18: 1-9 and Psalm 51: 1-3 and 4-17 – Mercy and Forgiveness
Grace and Peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen!
Matthew has given us great insight into Jesus’ teachings. Today, he is reporting on Jesus’s teachings regarding relationships. He wants us to understand that we are here to uphold each other, and help each other and support each other. That old saying, “No man is an island” is reflected here. We can’t do anything on our own. We need God and each other to survive… emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. Quiet and isolation may be good for short periods, to refresh and recharge. But staying to ourselves begins to wear a person down. So in Matthew, we hear what kind of follower God wants us to be.
I love that Jesus used the illustration of a child. Pulling the child near him, he told the disciples that they needed to be more like the child, and stop asking “Who’s the best?” During this period of time, children were not so valued. Usually they were pushed aside, and not coddled, as they are today. Just as Jesus was bringing attention to the downtrodden and marginalized; he was now pointing at a child as an example of someone the disciples should model.
Hard for the disciples to hear. And he made it very clear that they needed to see others before they look to themselves. He told them someone who mistreats or misguides others might as well have a millstone around their neck and thrown in the ocean! If any part of their body is used for harm to others, they might as well cut that piece of their body off and throw it away! No one should believe they are better than the one standing next to them. Instead, we should all be looking at each other through the eyes of God, and helping each other with hands that reach out, and not stay by our sides. This is part of the “coming down from the mountain” that Rev. Stephens talked about last week.
Now our Psalm today (the rest of which we will hear during the Responsive Psalm) is about a man who thought a lot of himself, and how those very thoughts brought great harm to him, to others, and sadly, to his own relationship with God. Just as the Matthew text describes how a relationship with God and others could be destroyed, Psalm 51 is a perfect example of how this could happen. This Psalm was written by David, after he was confronted by Nathan about his affair with Bathsheba and David’s sin was exposed.
God spared David from His full wrath and David realized (in his act of giving into his own pleasure and power), David had lost God’s admiration and trust in him. This is the background of David’s particular psalm of repentance, confession, and penitence begging of forgiveness. It is an extremely humble writing and we can feel David’s heart begging and David’s full acknowledgement of his actions and his brokenness. He knows any mercy from God would rely on God alone… there is nothing he can do except to prostrate himself, pray, and beg for forgiveness. His particular sin not only affected others, but angered God. The part of this Psalm that we all know so well comes about in verses 10-12, and we just finished singing David’s words:
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
And do not take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
And sustain in me a willing spirit.
David is ready for his due punishment, but begs for God to forgive him and stay by him. It is more than he can take, if God withdraws from him. As he said – “I know the only thing now that will be acceptable to You is my broken spirit, and my heart that cries loudly for you.”
The anguish, that David felt, is how our own lives feel, when we know we have sinned against God and against others. During this season of Lent, we need to bring to God those dark places in our hearts and ask, like David, for God’s mercy and forgiveness. For we know, through the words in Romans 3:23-24, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Martin Luther, himself, found these words of immense comfort. And those words are the ones that should bring us also to our knees to humble ourselves before God. Amen.