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RS/MP Chapter 23: “Of You It Is Required to Forgive”” (George Albert Smith Manual)

Posted by kirkcaudle on December 6, 2012

A link to the full lesson is here.

I do not usually quote long passages from the lesson material, but given the bitter nature of the presidential election that those of us in the United States just went though it seems appropriate.

In 1897, while still a young man, George Albert Smith enlisted in the Utah National Guard. At the encouragement of some of his companions, he ran for an elected office in the Guard, but during the weeks leading up to the election, a rival guardsman began spreading false rumors accusing George Albert Smith of unethical practices. As a result, Sergeant Smith lost an election that he felt he should have won. What made the situation more difficult was that the man who spread the false rumors had once been a friend.

Though he tried to brush it off, the offense filled George Albert Smith’s heart with bitterness. He went to church the following Sunday, but he did not feel right about taking the sacrament. He prayed for help and realized that he needed to repent of the resentment he was feeling. He decided to seek out his friend and be reconciled with him.

George Albert Smith went directly to the man’s office and said in a soft voice, “My brother, I want you to forgive me for hating you the way I have for the last few weeks.”

Immediately his friend’s heart softened. “Brother Smith, you have no need for forgiveness,” he said. “It is I who need forgiveness from you.” They shook hands, and thereafter they remained good friends.

What do we learn from this story in terms of political elections, forgiveness, and civil duty? While reading this story I was instantly reminded of the First Presidencies response to the reelection of President Obama, here. I will also quote it in full:

We congratulate President Obama on winning a second term as President of the United States.

After a long campaign, this is now a time for Americans to come together. It is a long tradition among Latter-day Saints to pray for our national leaders in our personal prayers and in our congregations. We invite Americans everywhere, whatever their political persuasion, to pray for the President, for his administration and the new Congress as they lead us through difficult and turbulent times. May our national leaders reflect the best in wisdom and judgment as they fulfill the great trust afforded to them by the American people.

We also commend Governor Romney for engaging at the highest level of our democratic process, which, by its nature, demands so much of those who offer themselves for public service. We wish him and his family every success in their future endeavors.

I will provide a short commentary on the parable found in Matthew 18:23-35 that I think can provide some very fruitful discussions on forgiveness in your classes and/or personal conversations. Before I start though, I would like to quote C.S. Lewis, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” I think that this quote provides a nice backdrop as we jump into this pericope.

23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.

24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.

25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.

26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.

27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.

28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.

29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.

30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.

31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.

32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:

33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?

34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.

35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

v24. In today’s terms 10,000 talents would be the equivalent of 10-12 million dollars (6,000 denarii, v28). If you think you have it bad by being thousands of dollars in debt, try millions. I can’t even imagine the feelings of helpless at that point. The man was already a slave/servant. Now with this debt he had lost whatever little freedom he actually had left.

v25. The oldest son being sold was actually not that uncommon of practice. In some cases, entire families would be taken/sold to pay a large debt. That seems to be what is happening here. The king obviously cares more about getting paid than he does about keeping a family together. After all, “a deal is a deal.” The king probably thinks that what he is doing is just because of this. The man dug his own grave, he should not have lived above his means in the first place.

v26. There are records of people (during New Testament times) chosing suicide over a lifetime of captivity due to an insurmountable debt. I think that this is because when we are in debt we start to feel a sense of hopeless because our live is no longer our own. We start to feel as if we are “owned” by the person that we are indebted to, even to the point of “worshiping” that person if it help us escape our awful situation.

v27. It is interesting to note what softens the kings heart in this verse. I think there are at least 3 possibilities (judging from v26). (1) that the servant is willing to worship him, (2) the willingness of the servant to do whatever was necessary to repay him, or (3) a mixture of 1&2). Whatever the reason, the king did forgive the servant and proved his forgiving by letting the servant go free.

v28. Once the servant is let go he does what many people do who have been bullied, they start to bully someone else. People that abuse often abuse someone that they are close to or someone that is in their similar situation. This is exactly what this guy does, he goes after a fellow servant. This other servant (maybe even a friend?) owed him a hundred pence. A pence is a denarius. A denarius was worth about 18 cents, which was the average daily wage for the common worker. After eating and taxes (and sometimes after just taxes) these workers often had nothing left. The servant demanding the money knew this better than anyone, but he no longer cared.

v29. Notice that the fellow servants response it very close to the servants response in v27 with one exception. The fellow servant falls down at the servants feet, but never promises to worship him. That makes me wonder if the lack of worship plays into the servant’s response in v30. After all, the feeling of being worshiped gives the abuser the power that he some strongly craves.

v30. The servant also responses differently than the king in v25. The servant does not make the fellow servant sell his family, he only throws him in jail. He takes the man’s freedom, but he does not own the man himself.

v31. Once the servant had attacked one of his own the entire community turns against him. The lower class had enough trouble dealing with the upper class, they could not withstand infighting of their own.

v32. The servant is a wicked servant because he could not show forgiveness when forgiveness was shown to him. Because good was done to him he had an oblagation to do go for others. The servant was not taken out of bondage in order to put other people into bondage.

v33. The king appears to be puzzled by the actions of the servant.

v34. Because the servant refused to forgive after he was shown forgiveness by the king his punishment was worse than before. Instead of just being sold to pay the debt, he was now to be tortured and forced to work off his debt forever.

v35. If we do not forgive the first time around, it will be much harder for us to forgive the second time around.

After reading through this parable, why do you think that failing to forgive others would make us unworthy of the forgiveness we seek? Who are each of the people in this parable? Who is the king? The servant? The fellow servant? I know that Christ is usually seen as the king, but do these roles ever change during different periods of our lives? For example, am I ever the king? I am ever the servant? The fellow servant?

“My brother, I want you to forgive me for hating you the way I have for the last few weeks.”-George Albert Smith

6 Responses to “RS/MP Chapter 23: “Of You It Is Required to Forgive”” (George Albert Smith Manual)”

  1. Carlyn said

    Thank you so much for your time and thoughts. I enjoy having lots to read and think about as I prepare my lesson.

  2. kirkcaudle said

    Thank you for taking the time to comment Carlyn. I am always happy to hear that they help someone out there.

  3. Tim Guymon said

    Thank you very much for this examination of the lesson. I will use this in presenting the lesson to my quorum today.

  4. joespencer said

    Nice, Kirk.

    As I’ve been preparing this lesson, I’ve been baffled by this passage on page 248:

    “. . . Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34.)

    That should be the attitude of all of the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints . . . and [it[ would be, it seems to me, if they fully understood the plan of salvation.

    I like this, but I’m not sure how to think about it. Isn’t this one of those things from Christ’s life that it isn’t clear we should emulate? Sure, we should forgive others, but should we forgive them because “they know not what they do”? Does that imply a kind of superiority on our part, or an inferiority on theirs? And doesn’t a call to emulate this suggest that we should try to determine when others know what they’re doing?

    Still more, how should we think about the claim here that we’ll come to see the necessity of emulating this gesture if we fully understand the plan of salvation? Does that suggest that we’ll only see that others don’t know what they’re doing when we do know what we’re doing? Or what’s to be made of the pairing of “they know not” and we should “fully understand”?

    Of course, I have some thoughts about all this, but I’m trying to make it all as aporetic as possible to see if I can’t draw others’ unique thoughts on this. What are we to learn from this claim?

  5. kirkcaudle said

    As I was reading your post Joe a thought occurred to me. Christ uttered, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” after he suffered in the garden, not before. I think that is significant. We do not have Jesus walking around pre-atonement saying this phrase to his disciples and commanding them to do anything even kind of like this (that I can think of). Therefore, perhaps it was only after the garden incident that Christ actually understood that we “know not what they [we] do.” Maybe this is something that one can say only after he or she has suffered on behalf of another? I don’t think that it is a stretch to say that Jesus Christ knew us in different way after he suffered for us.

    So, we should not be Christlike in this regard exactly because we are incapable of being Christlike in this regard.

    Thinking out loud.

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