9-12-17 - Mercy Unlimited

Jesus said there is no limit to the number of times we must be prepared to forgive someone. Then, to illustrate the point, he told one of his trademark stories. This is a longer parable, with multiple characters and scenes. As is often the case in how Matthew relates Jesus’ stories, this one has a violent cast to it. The story in a nutshell goes like this:

A king is settling his accounts with his slaves. Apparently this king not only owns slaves, but is like their loan-shark. The terms of non-payment are pretty severe – you’re sold off, along with your wife and children, and have to sell all your belongings, with the proceeds going to service your debt. Nice. One guy owes ten thousand talents. He begs the king to forgive his debt – and he does. Wow! That was unexpected, right? What he does in response to having his massive debt forgiven we’ll talk about tomorrow. Today, let’s focus on this ruthless king who is capable of such mercy.

Jesus starts the story by saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.” Is he saying that GOD is like such a king? Not necessarily – he says the realm of God may be so compared. At the very least, we surmise that in the economy of God’s realm, the servants owe the king quite a bit, and that settling these accounts is a normative occurrence.

Do we owe debts to God? Some theologians, like Anselm of Canterbury, argued that every sin we commit is akin to stealing from God. If God is perfect and has given us perfect life in his image, then every blemish on that perfection is an offense against the creator, an offense for which we must make restitution. That’s one way to look at it.

Or we might try the language of stewardship, which asserts that everything we have in this world, including our life, our gifts and resources, our relationships, our abilities, is on loan from our heavenly father, for us to use and enjoy and to nurture into growth. In this sense, every time we claim something as ours, whether money or credit for things we’ve done, we are grabbing at what was freely offered us to use. There is no “mine” in this view – we are always to be ready to account for our use of God’s gifts.

That's a way of seeing the process of repentance and confession – a daily settling of our accounts with God. Do you make a regular practice of confession? We do it in church, with or without much thought. Some people do it in their own prayer times. Others visit a confessor for the sacrament of reconciliation. To be honest before another person and hear the words of God’s forgiveness is a powerful grace.

We can do an inventory, thinking through our relationships, our work and activities, our use of our gifts. Incidents of self-centeredness or wounding of self or others might come to mind as we do this, and we can offer them to Jesus for forgiveness. Or read through a Prayer Book litany like the one for Ash Wednesday – that’ll stir up some penitence.

When we find we’ve taken more out of the kitty than we can replace, when we have committed too serious an offense to repay – which might be all of them – we fall on God’s great mercy. If it’s anything like the king’s in this story, though the consequences could be extremely dire, we get to walk away with our books balanced, nothing hanging over our heads. That what “whose service is perfect freedom” means.

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