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I owe, I owe, so off to work I go

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.  When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master 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, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until 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 master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You sinful servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the extortionists, until 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.” Matthew 18: 21-35

If you are not a Christian – a pupil of Jesus of Nazareth – please don’t bother to read this. This particular teaching of Jesus is not for non-Christians. The question, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” was asked by a disciple of Jesus – Peter. And Peter asked specifically about his brother – another disciple - sinning against him.

That being the case, the first thing to decide is this: what is the meaning of “sin against me”? It seems to include “offend me” and “harm me”.

Christians seem to know only too well that other Christians offend and harm them. But do these Christians forgive one another?

Peter wanted to know how many times he should forgive another disciple of Jesus who hurt him. He suggested that it could not be “as many as seven times.” Jesus replied “490 times.” And he immediately gave to Peter the one and only reason why that should be the case. I must forgive my fellow follower of Jesus 490 times because.....
‘When this passing world is done,/ When has sunk yon glaring sun,/ When we stand with Christ on high,/ Looking o’er life’s history;/Then, Lord, shall I fully know,/ Not till then, how much I owe.' (R M McCheyne, minister,  1813-1843)

In the illustration which Jesus gave, an employee of a king owes that king 10,000 talents. In AD 30 a talent was an extremely valuable ingot of silver or gold bullion. Contemporary records show that it was the equivalent of 20 year’s wages for a labourer. Did you notice how many talents were owed to the king by his employee? Yes, it was 10,000. That means that, when the employee faced his employer he owed him 200,000 years wages....

Did you notice that the employee fell on his knees and pleaded, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ “Have patience?” Will this man be able to provide his labour free to his employer for 200,000 years in order to discharge this debt? Will his boss agree that stupid proposal?

Out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt…..
 ‘Payment God will not twice demand,/ First at my bleeding Surety's hand,/ And then again at mine." (Augustus Toplady, hymn writer, 1740-1778)

As Jesus continued his parable his followers must have been challenged because they then heard that this forgiven employee was himself owed “a hundred denarii” by a fellow employee. One denarius was the normal wage for one day’s labour. 100 denarii were therefore 3 month’s wages – a quarter of a year - not 200,000 year’s wages.

The forgiven employee placed this fellow employee into the debtor’s prison, out of sight and condemned until he repaid the debt. But that man would never be able to repay that debt because he now couldn’t work to earn a denarius a day. Still, that was a good idea, I suppose – he deserved it, he owed me big-time. Other Christians tried to persuade me to forgive, but…..

The trouble is that I now find myself in the hands of extortioners – the word used by Jesus means tormentors. Am I to be tormented forever to pay this debt? How long will it take to repay my master for those 200,000 years of hard laboring work which he had originally and so generously forgiven me?
Richard Syvret

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