9-13-17 - Mercy Strained

What a heart-warming story we hear in Jesus’ parable about debt forgiveness. The king had pity on his poor slave and forgave his debt, all 10,000 talents of it. In fact, Jesus says, “he released him and forgave him the debt,” suggesting perhaps he was even set free from his servitude. It must have been a good day for that debtor. We'd like to think he continued the chain of mercy. Ah, but the story was not finished. Plot twist – the debtor was also a creditor:

“But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt.”

So the one who, in effect, just gained 10,000 talents he no longer has to repay, refuses to even extend the collection period on a mere 100-denarii loan. Liberals like me tend to think, “Oh, if everyone just received merciful treatment, they’d treat others that way.” This parable suggests it’s not automatic. I’ve preached to guys on the street who I’m pretty sure have called for major forgiveness in life – and some of them did not approve of the parable of the prodigal son. They prefer justice to mercy, hard as it is.

In this story Jesus suggests that, when we refuse to forgive our fellow human beings for the offenses they have committed, we are being exactly like that wicked slave – because the forgiveness we have received from God is so much greater than anything asked of us. Do you buy that? We need to accept at least two conditions for it to make sense:
  1. That we are sinners in need for forgiveness by God, and have received God’s grace.
  2. That, no matter how serious another’s offense against us is, it pales in comparison to humankind’s offenses against our Creator.
At the time we are wounded or insulted in some way, it’s hard to see anything but our pain and righteous anger. We’ll talk about it to anyone who will listen – often to anyone except the perpetrator. The idea that in God’s Big Picture our betrayals and shortcomings may be just as serious, or more, seems inconceivable in that moment. We lose perspective.

I will not try to persuade you which forgiveness is bigger. I’ll just invite us to put ourselves in the shoes of the first debtor, the one whose huge debt is removed, who has been set free. I believe that the more fully we integrate that spiritual gift, the better able we are to keep perspective when we are sinned against. When we really “get” how blissfully off the hook we are, we might just be more inclined to want other people to enjoy that feeling, even those who’ve hurt us most. Especially them.

Yesterday, I suggested some confession. Today, let’s think about people we still need to forgive for hurting us, letting us down, lying about us. Bear in mind the person you’re keeping on the hook might be yourself. It might be God. What would it feel like to release that person?

It can take a lifetime to accept God’s forgiveness and freedom, to live into the change in status conferred upon us in Christ: no longer a slave, no longer a debtor; now a daughter, a son, free. But what a life we can have if we accept that gift right now.

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