Theological Insights from a Modern Perspective

The Unmerciful Debtor

The Unmerciful Debtor

Matt 18:23-35: “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

What is a talent? No, it’s not the ability to juggle seven scimitars without cutting yourself to shreds. It’s money. Not a single coin but an amount of money. The value of a talent was the equivalent amount of gold equal to the weight of one cubic foot of water; a cubic foot of water weighs about 62.4 pounds, so a talent is 62.4 pounds of gold (as of this writing that’s about $1,112,831.76 USD).  In Rome and Greece the talent was the equivalent of 6,000 denarii, which from prior parables we know is the equivalent of two days wages for a skilled craftsman. So a talent is 3,000 days wages, or 10 years service! We are talking here of owing the master 100,000 years of service!

Now, to be honest Jesus was not actually saying the servant owed 10,000 talents to his master. No one in their right mind would lend that kind of money to someone making only 2 denarii a day. Jesus was trying to get across that the servant owed the master so much money that he could not possibly pay even a fraction of it in his lifetime.

Contrast this to what the servant was owed: a mere 50 days labor, a very realistic amount to repay, less than someone today would pay for a used car. Again, the point being not that he was owed 50 days work, but that the amount was minor and could have been repaid in a few years.

The lesson is simple enough: if you forgive people their minor infractions, God will forgive you all of the major and minor sins you have committed against him. All in all, a worthwhile exchange. So, why do we have such a hard time forgiving people?

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