Monday, September 15, 2008

The Debt that No One Can Repay

The text for this week was the one often known as "The Unforgiving Servant."

While the pericope was being read, I noticed the note in the center column of my Bible:

"talent: one talent is equal to fifteen years work. denarii: one denarius is equal to one day's work."

It wasn't until then that I realized that I had never really given much thought to how much a talent was, or how much a denarius was, or how they were even related. I wonder how common that is, since I never really remember a pastor mentioning the exact values of these in a sermon, either.

Wow. Think about it. This servant owed his master 10,000 talents. That means he owed him 150,000 years work!!! How does one even get into that kind of debt???

And when you think that the other servant owed the first servant 100 denarii, that REALLY is a lot, when you think about the servant only earning one denarius a day. No wonder it wasn't hard to forgive. The cash value of 100 days' work is even overwhelming to think of. It would be hard to pay off and still be able to feed my family. That really IS something that would be hard to just dismiss what having that back in my own coffers would mean to my family. And the reality of it is, if this guy is just a servant like me, trying to feed his family, he probably isn't going to be able to pay it back either. And to know that the reality is that it will never be returned, that hurts. That would make me mad, exasperated, frustrated...I could go on and on.

I have a friend that I grew up with, who every time I am with her and her family, she is constantly criticizing her father. If not directly to his face, then she jumps on the opportunity when he walks out of the room. Her father has made a lot of mistakes, sometimes ones that were very painful. But the constant snubs and bitterness make it very difficult for me to be there, at times.

But I also know my friend. She is waiting for some words from him, whether they are "I'm sorry" or "I'm proud of all you have accomplished," or something else...words that will take away all the times he has hurt her, and make it right. She has this hope. But those words will not make all the past go away, and so she holds on to the anger as if it is all she has. She holds on to the debt. I don't know that she would know what to do with herself if it were gone. But in reality, it can never be gone. Whether he says these words or not, the debt can only be forgiven. I hope and pray for her that she realizes that Christ has paid her father's debt, too -- and because of that, can heal her hurts as well....and that it is through Him that she finds the most perfect Father

I think there are two exaggerations in this text that we often fall into. First, we tend to underexaggerate the amount that the servant owed the master, and how much we owe God. I've heard it compared to millions of dollars, but in reality, the sinner in me could say "if I finished my degree and made $50,000 a year, I could possibly pay off a million dollars...that's 20 years. So if all goes right, I COULD do it." As if I wouldn't buckle under the emotional weight of that debt, the frustration that I wasn't able to reap ANY of the rewards from my work, that it is all credited to someone else.

But 150,000 years worth of work, can't do it. Just can't do it. No way I can even BEGIN to make a dent in that. The thought of it defeats me before I even lift a finger. And that is how it is with God. Because of our sinfulness, we owe Him such a huge debt that we could never make it up. NEVER. We can't even begin. Being "basically a good person" doesn't touch it. And every denarius of those 10,000 talents that I don't have nailed Jesus to the cross.

But on the other hand, we often look at the servant and say "He was forgiven so much, and yet he couldn't forgive so little." Yet, while that is true comparatively, I don't think Jesus was saying that this debt was a mere trifle either, especially to a man who was basically a slave. 100 days of work is a lot. A whole lot, and I think that if, comparatively, someone just couldn't seem to pay us back close to $10,000 (comparatively, by average salary), then we would really resent not having that, too. And when we look at the fact that it is someone who sinned against us, hurt us, maybe repeatedly over years, that is awfully hard to let go of and just say "forget it."

God calls us to do that. He also promises to give us the strength we need to forgive, but while I have known that the pains that I have in my heart that are so hard to let go of are sometimes precious to me, too precious to me....I have felt the weight of the Law in this text. But Christ is the one who teaches us to forgive. He is the one who even prayed that the Father forgive the very people who had nailed Him to the cross...and that includes me.


Dakotapam said...

Yep, that is a HUGE debt. The Rev pointed out the 15,000 years in his sermon, but I think that was the first I ever thought of it in those terms. I always thought of that parable in terms of big debt (like mortgage) vs. small debt (like library fines ...which for me can be big debt too!)

Joy said...

Wouldn't that be 150,000 years work? (10,000 talents times 15 years? It'd have to be 1.5 years to be 15,000....)

Gah. Who cares. You're right--how does anyone get into that kind of debt? This post was apropos, as I just had a friend lie to me. It's so much easier to forgive a child for that kind of thing.

Hi, Pamcakes :)

Dakotapam said...

HI Joy...are you making people do math late at night again?

Christopher D. Hall said...

I've preached this: A talent is a weight measurement, equal to 75 lbs (+/-). When speaking of money, it is measured in silver--a talent of money would be 75 lbs of silver.

Today silver is trading for $10/oz. Do the math: that 12000000 ounces of silver owed, or $120 million. If the man wasted or embezzled $32,876 every day for five years, he would have only wasted half the amount.

Moral of the story: Jesus is using an inconceivably large figure.

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

Yeah, I should seriously avoid doing math late at night. That's why we do it first thing in our homeschool lessons.... :)

But all this makes me wonder how people could even consider something like 10,000 years in purgatory even slightly comforting. Maybe with the knowledge that there is eternity afterward, and maybe with the human nature desire to be able to do it myself.

Dakotapam said...

Which reminds me of a saying the Rev has when we forget the camera for an important event..."since we have eternal life, who needs memories?"

But seriously, I always wondered what the comfort would be in purgatory, except that it is a step up from eternal damnation.

Joy said...

As for "forgetting it"... Can we? Forgiveness is not equal to amnesia. Or trust, for that matter. I may forgive a robber and even consider him a brother in the faith, but I'm never going to invite him into my home. Only God can willfully separate the bad from the good as far as the east is from the west, and treat us as though we have a clean slate.