Friday, April 17, 2009

No $5.00 Debt!

It was no $5.00 debt.

Do you remember the parable Jesus told about forgiveness? It was the story (Matthew 18.23-35) of a man who owed an enormous sum of money to the king--his debt was 10,000 talents. He pleaded for the king to have mercy, and his plea was answered: the king had the debt erased from the books. But, going out from the king, the man met a neighbor who owed him a sum of money--the neighbor's debt was 100 denarii. The neighbor pleaded for mercy, just as the man had done before the king, but the plea was not answered: the man had his neighbor thrown into prison.

Often this story is told with the attached moral: "If you cannot forgive a little, you will not be forgiven a lot (or much)." A good thought, but it misses the point of the story. The true import of the story comes with lessons in mathematics and in the currency of Jesus' day in mind.

The first man's debt was enormous--he owed the king 10,000 talents. One talent of Roman gold was roughly equivalent to the wages of a common laborer amassed over a period of 15 years. Do the math--this man owed the king the equivalent of 150,000 years of wages! No man could repay the debt, not even Bill Gates or the Saudi king. Yet, the king in Jesus' story forgave the debt; it was erased from the books!

The second man's debt, though often characterized as mere pennies, was also significant--this man owed his neighbor 100 denarii. One denarius was the standard daily wage for a common laborer. Do the math--this man owed his neighbor the equivalent of over 3 months of wages. This was no $5.00 debt.

Perhaps the moral of the story should be, "If you cannot forgive a little or much, you will not be forgive a lot (or much)." There is no forgiveness quotient. When Peter asked, "How many times should I forgive . . . seven times?" Jesus answered, "Not seven times, but seventy times seven" (Matt. 18.21-22). So forgive!