Seventy-sevenfold mercy


Matthew 18

File:Rembrandt 235.jpg

Rembrandt, The Unmerciful Servant

23”For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions

1,643 years and ten months. If the servant had worked for an ordinary day’s wage, it would take him 1,643 years and ten months to pay off his debt. That, of course, presumes that he worked seven days a week without stopping and that every portion of his wage went to the master – and that there was no interest. It is an unpayable debt.

The hundred denarii, on the other hand, is a hundred days wages. It was a payable debt.

Jesus is telling a story, of course. And like a good yarn it involves hyperbole. A fish is never a fish; it is a monster fish. There is a twinkle in Jesus’ eye.

A story that involves 10,000 talents is a story about the rich elites who govern the land. Even the mightiest in a small country like Judea are bound in some form of service to another. Herod may be “Herod the Great” but he still depends upon the favor of Augustus for his title of King. If he should not please Caesar, his kingdom can always be given to another. And there were no golden parachutes in those days.

So the crowd is laughing at the image of this high and mighty prince groveling at the feet of his master. And they are laughing at the debt. They recognize the ruthlessness that can fawn for the mighty and crush the unmighty. They all know landowners like this who are forgiven great debts but merciless with the poor. The crowd cheers when this man of influence and luxury who has never labored a day in his life is handed over to the inquisitors. ‘Jailors’ is too kind a word. Torture is the standard means of examination. He is not exactly “handed over to be tortured” – he is handed over to the interrogators who question in the routine fashion: by torture. They will know how to extract the necessary information about whatever funds this man has hidden.

The crowd likes the ending of this story, just as we take a vicarious satisfaction when the mighty fall. Except that Jesus then coldcocks the crowd: 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Suddenly this is not about the 1%; it is about us. And it is not a story; it is daily life.

35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Forgiveness is not an option. It is the defining reality of the realm of God.

There is a reason Jesus uses this number seventy-seven when Peter asks how often he should forgive. Lamech, the father of Tubal-Cain who first devised weapons of bronze and iron, vowed seventy-seven fold revenge should anyone harm him. The world runs by the principle of revenge, getting even. The realm of God is defined by forgiveness, forgiveness born of God’s infinite mercy.

We cannot come to the king’s wedding feast and mock him by refusing to wear the wedding garment he has provided. We cannot claim the name of Jesus and refuse to forgive. This doesn’t have anything to do with tolerating abuse; it just removes the concept of harming others as we have been harmed from the table. The rule is not “Do unto others as they have done to you,” but “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” There is a big difference in those two statements, the difference between the way of the world and the way of God, between the world of Lamech and the world of Jesus.

“Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light.”
–Ephesians 5:8


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