“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. “When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. “But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. “So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ “And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. “But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ “So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ “But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. “So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. “Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. ‘Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” – Matthew 18: 23-35
Let’s start by putting this into the proper perspective. In today’s value one talent is worth $1.25 million dollars. A denarii is worth one day’s unskilled labor. In Jesus’ day this would have amounted to about $20 in bread. The slave owed his master about $12.5 billion dollars while being owed only $2000 dollars.
Twelve billion dollars is an unpayable sum of money even for the richest person on the planet today. There was no bankruptcy back then. Failure to make good on the debt means you forfeit the collateral of that debt. The collateral for this man was not only his own life but the lives of his wife and children and their children to come. The man’s lineage for perpetuity was condemned to slavery.
But the master had compassion on the slave. Acting in mercy he forgave the slave's entire debt setting him free. He forgave an unpayable debt and restored the man to his full humanity. The redeemed slave then found the man who owed him a meager two thousand dollars and demanded payment in full. When that slave could not pay the man foreclosed on the loan and took the slave's collateral - the slave's life, as payment for the debt.
Why would a man who had just been shown an overwhelming amount of mercy then respond with so little mercy? Was it selfishness, ingratitude, or maybe pride? While meditating on this parable I was struck by the answer like taking a two by four to the head.
That man is I. I am the ungrateful slave. I have accumulated an unpayable debt to the Lord my God through the sin I commit every day. There is nothing I can do to repay what I owe. The cost of my sin is my life. God would be just if he were to foreclose on this debt and cast me into the abyss for eternity. But what does the merciful master do? He forgives. He redeems. He makes me whole.
Then what do I do? I call due every debt owed to me by those I know. I hold grudges. I stay angry. I refuse to acknowledge the existence of those I love because of something they said or did. I demand my hundred denarii and will not accept one penny less.
Mercy shall be received in the same measure that it is given. If I want to receive God’s mercy in its fullest I have to give mercy in my fullest. I need to forgive anything and everything that is in the way of my love for another. I have to let go of the hurt, hate, and fear that keep me from seeing Jesus present in every person.
What is the difference between pity and mercy? Pity is compassion extended downward to the humanity of a person, looking upon that person as being lower than myself. Mercy is compassion extended upward recognizing Christ in the person and acknowledging the dignity that person has because they were made in the image and likeness of God.
We are called to be merciful not pity filled. In this Jubilee Year of Mercy let us forgive every single denarii owed to us as we have been forgiven our ten thousand talents.