Extravant Forgiveness and its Consequences

Happy New Year.  After your discussion leaders compared notes, we decided you are stuck with me until January 29 when competent and intelligent leadership will return.  My sincere apologies.  And since I am much in need of your forgiveness for my horrible grammar, convoluted thought process, possible heresy and myriad other offenses I thought I’d start our year looking together at a trio of parables on love and forgiveness.

I believe these are two of the distinctives of Christianity, in no other religion are love and forgiveness the goal.  Islam tells you its goal in its name, the word in Arabic means submission or obedience.  If Buddhism or Hinduism speak of love it is not in terms of a God who loves us and seeks us because of His (or perhaps her) love.  No, Christianity is unique in propounding a God who cares for us, loves us and forgives us.

In that vein, the first parable presented for your consideration is the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant from Matthew 18. This parable comes hard on the heels of the Parable of the 99 sheep which Jesus told to illustrate His/Gods love for people.

In this parable, a shepherd is willing to leave the 99 sheep he has safely in his care to find one that was lost.  Jesus asks the rhetorical question, “…will he not leave the 99 on the hills and go look for the one….”  There is more here than meets the eye.

What would you do if you were the shepherd?  Would you take your loss and move on?  What would be the prudent thing to do?  If a bird, or in this case a sheep, in the hand is worth two in the bush, are 99 in the hand not worth more than one in the bush?

Fortunately for us God does not play the percentages, or the percentages He plays are not the ones we play, or perhaps because he is God He makes his own percentages.  In any event the picture is of extravagant care, extravagant grace, of doing what no one would think of as wise or prudent to insure that none of His children are lost.

A little later He responds to Peter’s question about how many times he must forgive his brother. Jesus answers not the seven times Peter had asked about, but seven times seventy times (that’s 490 if you’re literally minded but mathematically challenged).   Then he tells the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. 

This servant owed his Master a debt of 10,000 talents.  Lets put that into perspective. King Auletes aka Ptolemy XII, paid bribes to Julius Caesar and Pompey of as much as 6,000 gold talents to become a friend and ally of the people of Rome (amici et socii populi Romani).  One historian has estimated the bribes(depending on how much a talent weighs and what value is used for gold), at being worth between 1.5 and 3 billion dollars (and this reckoning is old). 

A biblical talent weighed about 75 pounds (it may have been as much as 120 pounds or as little as 45 pounds depending on which kind of talent Jesus was talking about). But lets use 75 pounds or 1093 troy ounces as our talent.  Gold closed in New York at $1,621/oz on 1-5-12 so 10,000 talents of gold would be worth $17,717,530,000.

Since the servant’s debt might have been in silver lets calculate that as well.  The New York markets closed on 1-5-12 with silver trading at $28.71/oz yielding a total value of $313,800,300.  A more modest but still staggering sum to all but the wealthiest people on the planet.

And this is the point, forget what the weight of a talent is or was or the price of commodity gold and silver and all of the accompanying math.  Jesus was telling his disciples that the debt this servant owed was such that he had no hope whatever of paying it.

The servant begged his master to forbear in collecting the debt, the master did so, and the servant immediately went out into the street found another servant of the master who was in debt to him for a much smaller amount, 100 denarii (a denarius was a day’s wage).

Lets put that into perspective as well for today.  If a worker makes $15/hour and works an 8 hour day, 100 days of his labor is valued at $12,000.  If you divide 12,000 into either of the two numbers above, so tiny is the percentage your calculator will have to resort to scientific notation to express it.

The first servant did to the second what the law permitted him to do, but his actions did not reflect what had been done to him. As a result of his act of ingratitude, the master had the first servant tortured until he paid back what he owed (which he could never do).  Jesus says that the same thing will happen to us unless we forgive our brother from our heart.

Jesus makes a direct connection between our willingness to forgive those who have done us ill and our forgiveness from God.  What festering debts are we harboring, whom have we not forgiven?  Whom have we thrown in prison until they can repay us? 

I don’t have any real conclusions or any point beyond the obvious here.  It is painfully obvious to me what Jesus was talking about and it is equally painfully obvious to me that I have not done what I ought in this regard (aka failed miserably).  Possibly you are in the same boat, so the question du jour is: what the heck do we do now?  In light of what we can understand, how should we live?