Matthew 18:21-35 v.29 then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you…”
The absence of mercy has turned this world into a cold, cruel place to live. I’m looking a this text, this person in the parable of Jesus who experienced what it was like to beg for mercy, but who didn’t have any mercy to offer when someone asked him to cut them some slack. Turn on your television sets, read a newspaper, listen to a radio talk show, and what we’ll find is people who haven’t a clue what being merciful is all about. Folks without homes, living out in the street, and a country of wealth and prosperity as had previously never been seen just driving on by, ipod head phones in our ears, cell phone blue tooth talking to us, rap music blasting at jet take off decibel levels, oblivious to the needs of folks right in front of us, saying, “can you cut me some slack?” And no sense of urgency, no understanding of the exigent circumstances of poverty and homelessness and hunger and health care can be found. Those are lines in a political campaign, slogans on bumper stickers, but the severity, the dire nature of the crisis for folks is not properly understood neither by our leaders nor by those of us who are ourselves one paycheck away from being right there with them. The absence of mercy has turned this world into a cold, cruel place to live.
Folks with no health care finally got some measure of hope from the House of Representatives a week ago, but in the Senate it looks like folks there would rather talk about whose to blame, pointing fingers at folks across the aisle and in the street, saying things like, “it’s their own fault. If they don’t take care of themselves the way the rest of the country takes care of itself, it’s their own fault they don’t have money for their own health care.” And so children without medical insurance go on with diseases that are treatable. Folks who’ve labored for years in fields, keeping the economy afloat, but they don’t have the right papers so they can’t get the right medical attention, hospital workers sometimes working long hours in hospitals but when they get sick they can’t afford to be in a bed they’ve been making up for years because they don’t have that procedure included in their health plan. All of these folks crying out the same plea, “can you cut me some slack? I know it ain’t in my health plan, I know my job isn’t as lucrative as some, and I know I don’t have a college degree or whatever other pedigree might be required to obtain that kind of job, I know I don’t have the right papers you require, but I’m sick and I can’t get well. My child is sick and needs this surgery. Isn’t there anybody here who can cut a brother some slack? Isn’t there any body who can show a sister some mercy?” The absence of mercy has turned this world into a cold cruel place.
Back when I was in school, scholarship money was flowing pretty well, and then the country voted for a certain B movie star who made it a little tougher to get federal grants to pay for college, a man who cut back funding for state colleges who were giving opportunities for minorities and poor people to afford college. And it was hard for me then, and it’s even harder for folks now. Education costs rise every year, tuition, books, housing, food. It’s enough to discourage some folks from even trying to improve their lives, from even trying to elevate the status of their families by getting a college education and opening up doors for employment that won’t be opened without it. And when a nation with billions of dollars can’t have a little mercy so folks can go to college and make the nation even greater than it is, when we can’t properly fund public schools so that children don’t grow up with no hope of anything but drugs, violence and prison. The absence of mercy is why we spend more building prisons to incarcerate people than we would to educate children properly and keep them out of trouble in the first place. And society is looking up for some help, folks trapped in a system that is designed for them to fail, that has planned for them to become criminals, that has set money aside to ensure we can incarcerate instead of educate folks. And folks are trapped, they got no hope, no way out, and all they can do is ask, “can you cut me some slack?” Can you give me a pell grant? Can you fund my local elementary school so that I can learn? Can you provide me in my urban environment the same opportunities that the kids in the suburbs get? Can you cut me some slack? The absence of mercy has turned this world, turned this great nation, turned our great citizens into a cold, cruel place to live.
The man in our text was forgiven a huge debt, given a big break, got out of a huge mess because of the mercy of his landowner. And soon as he got out, soon as he made it big, soon as he moved on up to the east side apartment in the sky, when someone owed him not 1/15th of what he had owed, instead of mercy and forgiveness, it was cruelty and viciousness. I don’t know about you, but I know a few folks who made it out of some bad situations, who came out of the barrio or the hood, who went to college, law school, grad school, who got good jobs, who made a good life, who became the American dream if I can say that. And soon as they did, they forgot about those who were still caught in the American nightmare. Won’t be seen driving through those neighborhoods, won’t vote for legislation that will improve those neighborhoods, won’t give back, won’t help out, won’t volunteer, won’t get involved. “We got ours, you go get yours. It’s on you, not me.” No mercy. No understanding. No giving back. No helping out. No paying it back. No nothing. The absence of mercy has made this world a cold, cruel place to live.
A few years ago, well, maybe more like ten years ago or so, my wife and I were having one of our marital spats as all couples do. I was mad about her doing this, she was mad about me doing that, so forth and so on. Look at all the jaws dropping. That’s right, we got our issues, too. Just because I’m the preacher and just because she’s the preacher’s wife don’t mean we don’t have our issues just like everyone else. And I’ll never forget this one time because of its truth and its ability to guide my actions from here on out. She said to me in a rather poignant moment, she said, “You don’t treat me kindly anymore.” And it was true. It stung me, but it was true. I remember saying something back in retaliation that was an effort to be just as hurtful, but no where near as truthful. In the midst of that heated exchange, I got a phone call from a church member, (y’all got some great timing) and I answered in a nice sweet voice, “Hello, this is Reverend Flores.” I was a whole lot nicer to that person on the phone than I was to the person I had vowed to love honor and cherish. And the whole episode made me think of how I treat my spouse, how I get on her case for every little thing I think she does wrong, how I hold her accountable for this that or the other. And how lacking in mercy my person had become, at least toward her. Here I am getting on her case for something around the house, when I ain’t perfect. I mess up, too. I get irritable, too. I have my bad days, too. So next time she comes home tired and cranky, I decided to cut her some slack, make her dinner, treat her nice. If she forgets something, cut her some slack. If she leaves a coffee cup or two around the house, cut her some slack. Have some mercy. Like I never left an ice tea glass out in my lifetime. I went home to California one time to visit my mom, and I went into the house and got myself a glass of mom’s famous ice tea. Drank that thing down, watched some television, it’s a nice quiet place now that all the family is up and out, and then went on about my business. When I got back, mom and I were talking in the living room, and she asked me how my day was, had I visited the old hang outs, in n out burgers, tommy’s, all my favorites, and then she asked me if I’d had a glass of ice tea yet. And I said, oh yeah, had one this afternoon. And she said, “So it was YOU all these years leaving that ice tea glass out!” Decades of frustration came pouring out, eesh!
Beloved, how merciful are we? How willing are we to cut someone we love some slack? How thoughtful are we of what they might have been going through, how they may have had it tough that day, how they may have been up to here with troubles and heartaches, and they just need us to cut them some slack? Show some mercy. I’m wondering if we reclaimed the virtue of mercy in our lives, the ability to say, “it’s okay, it’s all right,” instead of, “it’s your fault, you’re to blame, you messed up, why’d you do that?” I wonder how our marriages would be with just a steady, daily doze of mercy. The absence of mercy has made not only our world a cold cruel place to live, but it makes our homes a cold cruel place to live. It makes our work environment a cold, cruel place to live. It makes our friendships a cold cruel place to live. It makes our churches, where the love of Jesus Christ is supposed to be shared, where we are supposed to be invited into a loving relationship with God and with others, but the absence of mercy can turn even the church into a cold, cruel place to live. “But the bylaws say this. We’ve never done that. We’ve never done it that way before.” What would our families look like if we returned mercy into the home? What would our relationships look like with the addition of the mercy of the Lord? What would our churches look like? What would our nation look like if we reclaimed some mercy and displayed some compassion and demonstrated some empathy? I wonder if we’d have problems paying for health care for everyone if we had a little mercy. I wonder if we’d be at war with folks half way across the globe if we had a little mercy. I wonder if we’d be executing folks, building more jails than schools, bailing out the 2% of the population who control 90% of the wealth. I wonder if our divorce rate would be as high, if our divorce cases would be as venomous, if our domestic violence rate would be as high, if our child abuse rate would be as horrific if we just had more mercy, more empathy, more understanding, if we just cut folks some slack, “Ok, it’s all right. I know we all make mistakes. I know we all have our bad days. I know we all blow it sometimes.”
Well, now, why don’t we? I’m looking at this text and how this man wouldn’t cut his slave some slack for the minimal amount he owed. And I’m wondering, “why not? Why don’t we cut folks some slack? Why don’t we show more mercy?’
Well, one reason is that we forget that we make the same mistakes. This man owed more than ten times as much as his own debtor. We forget that we’ve made our share of wrong choices, that we’ve been forgiven a few times in our lives, that someone helped us out back in the day. We think, sometimes, we think that we did it all on our own, that we got to where we are on our own, that we didn’t need any help, didn’t need any mercy, didn’t need federal loans to get through school, didn’t need an affirmative action policy to ensure that we weren’t discriminated against. Oh I hope I’m not stepping on too many toes today, but sometimes we forget that it used to be us on the street corner. We used to be in the hood. We used to be in the barrio. And the thing is, but for the grace of God, that would still be us in the hood. But for the grace of God, we’d be the ones in trouble, we’d be the ones without a job, we’d be the ones without health care coverage. But for the grace and mercy of God, that would be us!
The other thing, not only because we forget the mercy shown us every day, but the other thing is that we don’t plan to need mercy ourselves in the future. “If you do not forgive,” says the Lord, “neither will your heavenly father forgive you.” “By what measure you give it shall be given back to you.” Some people call it karma, but I call it Jesus. One of these old days, I’m going to see Jesus face to face, the man who forgave me, the man who looked beyond my faults and saw my need, the man who didn’t have to come down from heaven, didn’t have to come out of his throne at the right hand of God, the man who came in the form of a man for me, who was born to a peasant family for me, falsely accused for me, beaten for me, whipped for me, wrongly convicted for me, crucified for me! He forgave me. He did all that for me! And one day I’m going to see him face to face, and have the nerve to live a life without mercy, holding grudges, forgiving no one, being a jerk to people, acting holier than thou? I’m still going to need his mercy, going to need his grace, going to need his goodness!
I was going to Dalessandro’s the other day ordering some cheesesteaks for the family. Okay, for me too. And so as I was driving in, I called in my order with my cell phone. Yes, they’re on my speed dial. So I get there, and the lady at the counter tells me how much the steaks cost, and I reach into my pocket to pull out my money at this cash only establishment. And lo and behold, while I know I took out cash the day prior, apparently when I put my cash in my pocket that morning, SOMEBODY had taken some money from my stash that I keep on the dresser drawer. I’m not blaming Debbie, I’m just sayin’… Anyway, I’m at Dalessandro’s and I’m $1.25 short. And the lady says, “You called in your order, and we made the steaks; you owe us. You have to pay.” And I’m lookin’ behind her at the grill with all that meat cooking, thinking, that will clog 2 or 3 arteries right there! It looked delicious. That was the good life. But she said to me, “you can’t have the food until you pay what you owe.” And I couldn’t pay what I owed because SOMEBODY had taken a few bucks for themselves. Just sayin’… But then the owner of Dalessandro’s comes up behind the lady at the counter and she says, “It’s okay, I know him. Rev. Flores has been coming here for years. We go way back. We have a relationship. Let’s cut him some slack.”
Well, that’s how I expect it’s going to be, when I get to the gates of heaven some day. I imagine that standing at the gates of heaven, St. Peter will be there; Or maybe it will be Genester Nix Miller. And Genester is going to say, “you can’t come in here. Through these gates is everlasting life. The streets are paved with gold. There’s no more dying here. No more crying here. No more cancer, no more diseases, just life, joy and peace forevermore. But you can’t come in here because you have a debt that you owe and it must be paid. You can’t come in here because it’s only for the righteous. You can’t come in here because you came up a little bit short of the mark. You owe, and you cannot pay.” But then I imagine that Jesus, the captain of my soul, the bright and morning sun, Jesus, the lily of the valley, Jesus my savior, he’s going to come up behind Genester and tap her on the shoulder. He’s going to say to her, “It’s okay. I know him. We have a relationship. We go way back, back to Calvary, back to Golgotha, back to when I took the penalty for his sins, back to when I saved him, changed him, rearranged him, redeemed him, restored him. It’s okay. I know him. I love him. Let’s cut him some slack. Enter thou into the joy of the Lord. Enter into everlasting life. Enter into the presence of your savior!”