St. Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh
Midweek Devotion 12th August 2021
Led by Rev Professor Kenneth Boyd
Welcome to online devotion with St Giles’ Cathedral, today, Thursday the 12th of August 2021
Scripture Reading Matthew 18. 21 to 35
21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times seven.
23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents[c] was brought to him; 25 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. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii,] and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 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. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister[e] from your heart.”
Today’s reading is one of the most beautiful and most challenging in all the Bible. The beauty of it is its simplicity: freely forgiving and being freely forgiven is all you need to enter the kingdom of heaven, in other words, to become, or begin to become, the self-forgetting self you most deeply long to be. But this is also challenging, because the self-preoccupied self we slide into daily all-too-often gets in the way, all-too-often misleads us into either self-justification or self-denigration; and then, like the slave in the parable, into taking it out on other people.
But that, surely, is just human nature, isn’t it? The Gospel disagrees. What we think of as human nature, what causes everything from wars to domestic bitterness, is not human nature but our repeated stumbling on the way to become what human nature has in it to be, self-forgetful selves, in love and charity with our neighbours. The Gospel does not pretend that this is easy: but it shows that it is possible, above all in the heart-felt words wrung from Jesus on the cross: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In saying, and truly meaning those words, Jesus sees not only his persecutors, but also all of us, as God sees us, as his children who have forgotten to be childlike, and can only be restored to life and health by forgiving and accepting forgiveness, again and again and again.
Perhaps that is why it has taken so long, why God has had to be so patient with us as individuals and as humanity: the freedom of freely forgiving and being freely forgiven can only be learnt through long experience, seeking to heal not only our individual selves, but also the historical scars of man’s inhumanity to man and man’s indifference to the natural world. The beauty of the Gospel is that this seemingly human impossibility is possible, it is what we were created to be. And if we look around us, if we look around us with imagination and humility, we may begin to see that impossibility even now becoming possible, often in the most ordinary and unexpected places and faces. AMEN
Prayers: Three prayers of St Augustine.
O God, from whom to be turned is to fall, to whom to be turned is to rise,
and with whom to stand is to abide forever; grant us in all our duties your help,
in all our perplexities your guidance, in all our dangers your protection,
and in all our sorrows your peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who wake, or watch or weep today
and give your angels charge over those who sleep.
Tend the sick, give rest to the weary, sustain the dying, calm the suffering,
and pity the distressed; all for your love’s sake, O Christ our Redeemer. Amen
Almighty God, you know our needs before we ask, and our ignorance in asking:
Set your servants free from all anxious thoughts about the future,
give us contentment with your good gifts, and confirm our faith
that as we seek your kingdom, you will not let us lack any good thing;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. to whom all are dear. Amen
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen
And now may the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
bless, preserve and keep us and all God’s children,
in the joy, simplicity, and compassion of the gospel. Amen
Dieterich Buxtehude Komm heiliger Geist, Herr Gott BuxWV 200