[Click HERE to read the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.]
In the ancient Near East, monarchs and potentates employed provincial officials to manage government revenues. A free-handed king might allow one of his collection officers to borrow from the treasury. The official could use royal funds to build up a lavish household of his own and carry on like a little potentate himself.
But the royal accountants kept track of the money.
If someone in the imperial bureaucracy began to suspect that a particular official had borrowed more than he should from the king’s coffers, then a day of reckoning would come.
Our translation of the gospel parable refers to the debtor owing “a huge amount.” The Greek reads “ten thousand talents.”
The current U.S. dollar equivalent would be: $225,000,000.
In the royal throne room, the indebted official groveled pathetically before his master. Again, to translate literally from the Greek: he did the king homage by kissing the royal hands and then prostrating himself on the floor.
Now, this king possessed stunning power and largesse. The extent of his resources made this particular IOU seem small. He knew this poor little spendthrift would never be able to pay him back.
‘Come on, get up, old boy! What’s $225 million among friends? Go home, and give your wife and kids a kiss for me.’
Here’s the question: What kind of king is this? How did he manage to amass so much wherewithal that he could wave off a quarter-billion-dollar debt with an indulgent smile? Who has the power, the confidence, and the resources to act with such otherworldly magnificence?
There is one point-of-view from which the Twin Towers, even when they stood a quarter-mile high, did not look tall. From the ground, those towers made for an awesome spectacle. But Someone Else looked down upon them, with indulgent eyes, from an altogether more powerful perch.
How can we Christians find it in ourselves to be genuinely forgiving? How can we say, ‘Well, you know what? Still makes me mad that they attacked us and killed our innocent people. I still cannot fathom the depravity and malice that would do it. The justice of God will balance the scales, as only He knows how to do.
‘But, still, I hope that everyone who died on September 11, 2001, can get to heaven somehow. I am a sinner, too, and I rely on God’s mercy. So I pray that every last person who came down in those horrible balls of fire will be able to get to heaven somehow. I pray for the hundreds, the thousands, of good guys. And I pray for the 19 bad guys, too. May we all be in heaven together someday.’
How can a Christian muster the magnanimity to pray for his enemies? To love his enemies. To want nothing other than to live in the Kingdom of God with both friend and foe alike?
I’ll tell you one thing: Will-power alone cannot bring it off. We do not become merciful because we are great. The evil of the world dwarfs us much more than the Twin Towers did. If we presume to go up against the malice of Satan alone, he will crush us instantly in a hail of debris.
But we can be merciful, because God is great. We can share in His infinite resources.
The Lord looks down and sees the world, His handiwork. When part of it is scarred by the ugliness of evil, He immediately sees how, by His infinite power, He will heal and rebuild.
He looks down and sees a world full of His children. Not one falls outside the reach of His love. When one sins, He sees immediately how He will move the sinner to repentance by the calm light of truth. All things will be made right by the blood of Christ, and the sinner will not be lost.
In other words, God has a bank account big enough to cover the most outrageous debts. When the planes and the buildings came crashing down, the Lord thought, ‘This is terrible. But of course I will pour out everything needed to bring good even out of this, and the sun will rise again. Justice will have to be done, yes. But My love makes even this tremendous catastrophe look small. I will heal this and make all things new.’
We need never fear a divine sovereign-debt crisis. The divine safety net of mercy will never collapse. It is no ponzi scheme. The Lord loans and loans and loans, never expecting repayment—and infinitely more wealth still sits in the Almighty bank.
May His Kingdom come. May He give us our daily bread. May He forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
To go back to the Greek text of the gospel reading one more time. Our translation has it that the second servant owed the first “a very small amount.” Approximate calculation from the original text, in our currency: $35.
The first servant owed the king $250 million. The second servant owed the first $35.
Certainly, you and I owe each other $35 here and there. Let’s make apologies, and do what we can to make it right. Then we can forget all about it, and we can go together to kiss the King’s hands and prostrate ourselves before Him. He will smile to see us together.