Do you have debts? Most people do, but they remain in control. Some of you, however, may have had the awful experience of being in uncontrolled debt. Debt is like a deadly trap from which some people cannot escape. Many incur even deeper debt through short term high interest loans or even resort to criminal acts or desperate measures like suicide.
The subject of Debt is an emotive one which causes endless misery for some people and so is the issue of forgiveness. Perhaps you have been deeply damaged by another person. “Who owes who when it comes to apologies?” Sometimes those hurts happened so long ago that the person responsible isn’t even around to make amends.
We don’t know exactly what prompted Peter to ask his question. Matthew places it within the context of Jesus’s teaching about the exercise of Church discipline, but it seems an odd question and an odd way to phrase it. Did Peter have a personal agenda of some sort? Perhaps his neighbour kept on borrowing his lawn mower and time and time again returned it with the grass box still full of grass and mud on the wheels!! Perhaps he was repeatedly abused by a relative when he was younger. Perhaps he knew of the wife of an alcoholic who would strike her and then when sober would plead for forgiveness and vow it would never happen again….until next time?
According to the Jewish Talmud, a vast collection of rabbinical teaching, a person was required to forgive another up to 3 times (R. Yosi bar Chanina) and so Simon Peter is being more than magnanimous in suggesting that a follower of Christ in the Kingdom of God should be prepared to forgive their neighbour up to 7 times. To his amazement Jesus indicated that the standard was not just 7 times, but 490 times, 70 times 7. It is possible that both base their phraseology from Genesis 4:24 “If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.” The inference being that there must be no limit to our forgiveness of another.
To reinforce this Jesus then tells His famous parable of the unforgiving servant.
He is the master storyteller and uses hyperbole to drive the point home.
The unforgiving servant is owed 100 Denarii by a fellow employee whereas he owed the King 10,000 Talents. The Greek word Matthew used is “A Myrioi” of Talents. A Myrioi was the highest Greek figure. A Denarius was a simple Roman coin, amounting to an ordinary labourer’s daily wage and so 100 Denarii was a hundred day’s wages which seems a lot, but when you compare it with what the other owed the King, it is nothing. One hundred Denarii is around £4.60 whereas the outstanding debt which the unforgiving servant owed was nearly £2 ½ Million,
€2, 600, 000 to be precise in today’s currency, possibly in the Billions if it was gold. A Talent was a weight and not unit of currency, 33 kg. This means that the servant had embezzled or lost or wasted 330,000 kg of gold or silver. One commentator notes that such treasure would have required a 5 mile long procession of couriers and an entire Army to protect, but somehow the King heeded the entreaties of his worthless servant and set aside the debt.
This scoundrel has been spared having to pay back nearly 2 ½ Million pounds and yet only moments later the same servant is choking the life out of a fellow employee of the King because he owned him a fiver. No wonder the other servants were outraged and informed the King and small wonder that the King reacted in the way he did.
“How much do you owe God?” The answer is a debt beyond imagination, an unpayable debt.
The King will have looked his servant in the eye and said “So, what have you done with my money?” Can you imagine the look of horror on the servant’s face now the day of reckoning had come? The Lord is looking in your face and says “What have you with my life, the life I gave you……………..?”
Do you have an answer for Him?
We, like the servant, can only cry for mercy. After a moment God says “Go in peace. Your debt is paid!”
The sinful predicament we face is that of the King’s servant. That debt has been remitted by God through His grace made possible because of Christ’s death on the Cross. How can we harbour any unforgiveness in our hearts against another person after that? If we do, the parable warns us what will happen.
Our debt to God is unpayable save through His Grace made possible by Christ’s death on the cross.
He has forgiven those come to Him in faith and penitence on the understanding that we show the same mercy to others.
We will all have stories of how other people have wronged us. They may even count amongst our favourite stories to tell or perhaps we have got so used to those memories that they lodge like a painful familiar splinter that has become part of our skin and we find hard to let go and forgive those who have wronged us, but let go we must. Our salvation depends on it and also the salvation of those who have wronged us. It could be that very act of charity and forgiveness we offer inspired by our faith in Christ which brings them to the foot of the cross too.