“Then Peter came and said to [Jesus], “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22)
One of my favourite people in the world is Dr Hassoun – until recently, the Grand Mufti of Syria. I’ve met with the man many times over the last ten years. In 2019, I had the privilege of introducing him to my daughter, Imogen, and two years prior to that I took my son to Damascus, where he had to sit quietly and listen to Dr Hassoun telling him what a “special man” his father was.
Poor lad! No boy of fifteen can sit comfortably while someone eulogises over his father! What touched me most in that meeting though was not what the Mufti said to Soren about me, but what he said to me about my son – namely, that Soren reminded him of his son, Sariya.
Dr Hassoun’s son, Sariya, was murdered by rebel insurgents in 2011, in an ambush on the road. Sariya had not been involved in politics at all. He was killed because he was his father’s son. Evidently, no one had anticipated that he would be targeted. What was even less expected though was what happened at the funeral, where Dr Hassoun delivered a eulogy focusing on forgiveness!
You can still listen to it on YouTube. It’s about 20 minutes long. Towards the end he says:
“Those who are listening to me, who killed my son, Sariya, I’m addressing you. May God preserve you from heartache, and may you never experience the agony that you have caused us. I am asking God to inspire you to repentance before you leave this life, so as not to be your accuser on the day of judgement I am asking God to enter into the heart of Sariya’s mother, to give her the ability to forgive you, as I forgive you.”
Forgiveness is an amazing thing, and it’s hard not to see the presence of God in those who truly practice it. From a Christian perspective, forgiveness is the ultimate gift of God to humanity – a divine force that has the power to heal individuals and nations. In Jesus’ story about forgiveness in Matthew 18 though, it’s also a bit scary!
“For this reason, the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.” (Matthew 18:23-27)
Up to this point, the story is not so much scary as crazy! The king is settling his accounts, and he discovers one outstanding debt of around 16 billion dollars! That’s a rough figure, translated from 10,000 talents, but if a talent (which is a weight) is around 34kg and the price of gold is around $48,000/kilo, then a talent of gold is worth roughly $1.6 million, and this man owed 10,000 talents!
It’s hard to envisage how the king was holding his kingdom together while carrying such an outstanding debt. Moreover, what possessed the king to lend his slave this amount of money in the first place? What could he have needed it for? The figures are ridiculous, and yet the only thing more ridiculous is that fact that the king, out of apparent pity for his slave, forgives him the entire amount! Is that rational behaviour? Is it even moral for a leader to forgive someone a debt that must be crippling the entire country? Of course, it’s just a story. Perhaps this is Jesus’ sense of humour. If so, there’s a transition to black humour in the second half of the story.
“But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slave who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt.” (Matthew 18:28-30)
The behaviour of this man – forgiven an impossible debt but showing no mercy at all to his fellow slave – is outrageous, yet believable. Kindness is not always repaid with kindness. Love does not always generate love. By showing mercy to someone, there are no guarantees that the forgiven person will show mercy back to you, or to anybody else. The Mufti’s story is a case in point. When the police eventually caught two of the men who killed his son, Dr Hassoun went to the prison and offered forgiveness to the men and asked the judge to have mercy on them. Apparently, the men didn’t want his forgiveness and the judge told him that they’d killed lots of other people. The judgement wasn’t his call. Not every story of grace and forgiveness has a fairytale ending. Today’s parable doesn’t end happily either.
“When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.” (Matthew 18:31-34)
What started out as a story about a compassionate and merciful king ends up with the king raging and everybody else in gaol! The king’s final solution to his country’s national debt – that the torturers be left to extract the money from the unmerciful servant – is as irrational as it is macabre. Aren’t Bible stories supposed to have happy endings?
“So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35).
Ouch! Scary stuff, isn’t it? Black humour it may be, but one thing is clear: Forgiveness is serious business.
Our Sunday Eucharist
Our discussion and prayer last Sunday also brought home to me the number of us who are struggling at the moment. It’s easy to miss the big picture when you are struggling yourself. Pain always makes us focus on ourselves. Father John Powell used to say, “when you’ve got a toothache, you can only think about yourself and a dentist”. I get so absorbed in my own struggles that I can be blinded to the pain of my sisters and brothers around me. Lord, have mercy.
The highlights from last Sunday are below:
I’ll be with you again this Sunday, accompanied live by our dear sister, Karyn, and our brother, Sam. Father Ola will also be with us too this time with his pre-recorded thoughts on our final reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans.
Incidentally, I just received a wonderful pic from Father Ola that gave me so much joy! Ola has connected with our other dear brother, Father Elias! Evidently, Elias is currently in Stockholm. How great to see these two mighty Fighting Fathers meeting in person! The pic is below. May God richly bless them both.
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- Saturday, September 16th – Boxing from 3.00 pm @Legends Gym
- Sunday, September 17th – Our Eucharist from noon thesundayeucharist.com (or through Facebook , YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn or Streamyard).
- Monday, September 18th – Boxing from 7.00 pm @Legends Gym
- Wednesday, September 20th – Joy and I fly to London, returning October 14.
Yes, Joy and I are flying to London on Wednesday and will be gone for three weeks. Even so, the show must go on!
- Rob and Father Mark will be taking the helm of The Sunday Eucharist
- Bobby Habib will cover the Boxing Club, He’ll text the team re: – training times.
- Binacrombi will be fully functional. Call Amanda on 1800 620 706 to book.
- This newsletter should continue as usual, with some extra pics and stories. 😊
While in London I’m hoping to touch base with dear friends such as Stephen Sizer. I’m also hoping to connect with members of the Assange support team. I’ve asked whether I can make a pastoral visit to Julian in prison too. We’ll see what happens. Clergy visits aren’t normally a problem, but nothing about Julian’s case is normal.
Having said that, I’m deeply encouraged to see Australian politicians finally taking a stand for Julian. Sixty-three (63) Australian ministers and senators have signed the ‘Free Assange’ petition, and six of them are now travelling to Washington DC to push the issue! You can read all about that here. Australians are drawing a line and standing up for freedom of speech. Let’s hope it’s not too late for dear Julian.
May the Lord bless and strengthen you for the work to which you have been called.
Your brother in the Good Fight