The Bible In A Year: Day 21
Exodus opens with a short recap of the ending of Genesis, where we hear of who came into Egypt with Jacob and how in the time between then and now, they’ve gone from 70 people to a nation of people. Their population has so expanded that the new pharaoh, who has forgotten all that these Hebrews done to save Egypt during the time of Joseph, he decides to try and thin their numbers because he feels threatened by them.
He at first tries to have the midwives kill the newborn babies during delivery. Perhaps this was so there would be no suspicion of ethnic cleansing, due to high infant mortality rates in the ancient world. But this plan fails, and so he falls back on doing some out in the open infanticide, ordering any newborn male Hebrew to be thrown into the Nile.
This is where we catch up with the famous story of Moses in the reed basket floating down the Nile until he’s rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised as a prince of the kingdom. God really likes irony sometimes.
When Moses grows up (he’s 40 years old at this point), he isnot unaware of his people’s suffering, and he kills and Egyptian taskmaster that was beating a Hebrew slave. He flees to Midian, which is across the Red Sea in the Arabian peninsula, when he feels he’s in danger of being discovered and turned over to the authorities for murder. While there he has a chance meeting at a well with some local ladies (see the pattern?) and eventually is introduced to his soon to be father-in-law.
This is a pretty short intro and setup to the exodus story, a story that is not only the origin story for the nation of Israel, but also seen as an allegory for our own lives as well. We are freed from sin by the new and greater Moses, escape the bondage of the devil and are washed in the Red Sea in the sacrament of baptism.
There’s a few different parables and sayings in the 18th chapter of Mathew so I just wanted to give a few thoughts on some of them.
Jesus talks first about humility and how true greatness is to be childlike. What does that mean? It is meant to mean complete trust and reliance on God, and especially for these newly minted church leaders He’s talking to. After all, they aren’t supposed to be running their own shows and setting up little fiefdoms of power, they’re supposed to be stewards and shepherds of Christ’s church. It’s His church, and the hierarchy have the job of custodian and caretaker, that’s a humble position and Jesus wants to make that clear. This is even reflected down today in one of the titles of the Pope, he’s called “the servant of the servants of God” as in his job is to captain the ship and be a servant to all, just like Jesus was and showed His disciples when He washed their feet.
Then we see the parable of the lost sheep and somewhat of a ridiculous idea that a shepherd would leave 99 sheep and go after the single lost sheep. Admittedly I have very little experience with animals and absolutely no experience with shepherding, but it just feels like a bad game plan. That is until you are the single sheep He’s searching for and saving. Then it makes all the sense in the world.
Some saints have said that allegorically the lost sheep represent mankind, and the 99 sheep are the angels that the Good Shepherd leaves behind and takes on humanity, thus coming down from the hills and seeking to raise mankind back up to heaven through His life, death and resurrection. Thus restoring us to communion with the angels and saints in heaven. I think I like that picture they paint.
Jesus moves on from here to some church discipline measures and how to deal with a brother who sins. This touches back to earlier in the chapter where he was talking about causing a brother to sin. This can be directly through encouragement to sin, or through causing scandal by your example. Christ himself gives us a path to approach the person privately, and then with several witnesses, and finally to take it up with the church and if unrepentant the person is excommunicated. This is not purely for punitive purposes, but to show them how serious the situation is, and if the sin is publicly known it also serves to show that this sin isn’t approved by the church. So it has a double effect and is meant to be medicinal primarily.
At the end of this church discipline paragraph, Jesus reiterated the power of binding and loosing that was given to Peter. This isn’t just for church doctrine, teaching and practices, it’s also for the binding and loosing of sins through reconciliation.
Now towards the end of this chapter, Jesus has a couple things to say about forgiveness. Peter decides to ask Jesus how many times he must forgive his brother, especially now that they’re being given these powers to bind and loose, he wants to know what the limit on forgiveness should be. So he throws the number seven out as a possible limit. Some schools of thought among the rabbis of the day said that three was the limit of forgiveness because in Amos chapter 1 God said that Israel’s enemies would be punished after their fourth transgressions, so we are bound to also forgive three times. Peter probably thought he was being extra benevolent by more than doubling the common understanding of mercy and it’s limits, but Jesus tells him to forgive not just seven offenses, but seventy times seven.
Don’t worry though, this number isn’t meant to be a hard cap on forgiveness, like God saying “you’ll be forgiven 490 sins, but 491 sends you straight to hell!” It’s an overabundance of mercy and forgiveness, and it’s a direct contrast with the evil Lamech from Genesis chapter 4, who promised vengeance of seventy times seven. God is always willing to forgive us, we only have to ask.
Then, to really drive home the importance of forgiveness, Jesus tells the parable of the unforgiving servant. What’s important to note here is that the first servant owed a debt equal to a lifetime of work. What he owed was something like what a laborer in that day could earn in a few decades of work. Essentially he had absolutely no chance of ever paying off this debt.
When called in to pay the debt, he begs for more time and promises he’ll pay it. When the master is moved with pity, he forgives the entire debt. So what does our newly freed debtor do? He decided to go break some kneecaps like an old fashioned loan shark.
He heads out and finds another servant who owes him what is equivalent to a few months salary, so not an insignificant sum, but something that could be paid back in due time. And when the debt can’t be immediately satisfied he throws the other servant into prison.
This all ends badly for the first guy, because the master finds out and is enraged by the unforgiving character of the servant who’d been relieved of a debt he could never pay. And so he was thrown into the dungeon.
Jesus warns the disciples that unless you forgive, you won’t be forgiven, just like He taught in the Lord’s Prayer (see The Perfect Prayer). You see, we have been forgiven a debt that we could never pay, and yet we hold slight offenses against or family and friends like this unforgiving servant. We need to emulate Christ in all ways, and especially in this way,
Highly recommend reading the catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs 2838-2845 to get a fuller treatment on this aspect of God’s forgiveness