Mercy and Memory

Maybe you can understand it. Perhaps there’s a way to make sense of a guy who fails to forgive the debt of someone who owes him a day’s wages even though he had been forgiven a debt it would have taken a lifetime to repay. How someone who should have been sold, along with his wife and kids and everything he owned, as recompense for at least part of the debt, but wasn’t, could then arrange to have a brother thrown into jail, separating him from his family and preventing him from earning a living. Maybe you can understand it . . . if you think that perhaps there’s a connection between mercy and memory.

“Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’” ~ Jesus

(Matthew 18:32-33 ESV)

Peter had asked the Master a question, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” And Jesus responded with a parable, a story that could be understood on earth though it spoke of dynamics related to the kingdom of heaven.

And so, He told of a debt-ridden servant who owed more than he could ever repay and a master who responded with unimaginable compassion and generosity at the servant’s plea for patience. A tale of a debt-forgiven servant who, when given the opportunity to show similar understanding and generosity to another, refused and, instead, had him thrown into jail until he could repay the debt. Yuck! No wonder, in Jesus’ story, the master loses it with the servant and judges him severely.

So how does that happen? How can someone forgiven so much be so stingy? How can someone shown so much grace be so ungracious? How does someone whose very freedom is because of unprecedented mercy be so unmerciful? Wondering if it doesn’t have something to do with memory.

That as time goes on, being debt-free just becomes the norm. That the awe of having been forgiven ages. The wonder of being debt free wanes. The once intense appreciation of being spared atrophies. And the more the memory fades, the more likely the motivation to show mercy dissolves.

But what if the forgiven servant had some way to memorialize that life changing event when his insurmountable debt was erased? Some regular means of remembering where he had been and the cost of him being in a different place now? What if it involved a tangible, purposeful, intentional ritual designed to engage the senses in order to stir the memory, invoke again the wonder, and stir afresh the awe? I’m thinking that fresh memories of having received mercy might result in fresh motivation to show mercy.

And I’m thinking of the Lord’s Supper.

While we do this in remembrance of Him until He come, it can’t help but bring to remembrance the reason for His death because of where we were. Our debt of sin beyond our ability to pay. Justly deserving to bear the recompense for what we owed, yet freely forgiven through the finished work of the cross. Objects of God’s incomprehensible love. Recipients of unimaginable grace. Forever set free because of immeasurable mercy. And in remembering this, in keeping it fresh, ready to love others, extend grace to others, have mercy on others, forgiving others as we have been forgiven.

Seven times, Peter?

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

(Matthew 18:22 ESV)

Maybe mercy is a product of memory. And Jesus has provided for the memory through a simple remembrance feast. Ours is to faithfully, frequently, and meaningfully participate in it.

Then we too, who have been shown such great mercy, will have the capacity and the motivation to show mercy to others.

Because of His grace. For His glory.

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