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The personal debt crisis

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 bring to an end his accounts with his bonded workers. When he began to bring them to an end, one was brought to him who owed him 200,000 times his annual wage. 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 bonded worker fell on his knees, pleading to him, ‘Have patience with me, and I shall pay you everything.’ And feeling so sad for him, the master of that bonded worker set him free and forgave him the debt. But when that same bonded worker went out, he found one of his fellow bonded workers who owed him two days wages, and grabbing hold of him, he choked him, saying, ‘Pay everything you owe.’ So his fellow bonded worker 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…..” Matthew 18: 21-30
Someone once said that there are only two certainties in life – death and taxes. Maybe you’ll agree that a third certainty in life is conflict. Conflicts, disputes, arguments, claims, misunderstandings - are everywhere.

Every Jersey contract of employment must contain a dispute resolution statement, setting out how workplace conflicts are expected to be resolved.
Conflict and forgiveness are irrevocably attached to one another. But, while conflict is a certainty, forgiveness is by no means certain.

What percentage of conflicts in our world today are resolved by forgiveness? Is it 50%? Or are only 10% of conflicts settled with forgiveness? Or is it even less – maybe 1%.


‘Do you think that you deserve forgiveness? If you do, you are not a Christian.’ (D Martyn Lloyd Jones, preacher and writer, 1899-1981)
Matthew, Jesus’ eye-witness biographer, records (see bold above) that one - at least one but probably all – of Jesus’ disciples had a problem with forgiveness.

This was Peter - he had obviously thought about it. He knew he should forgive others. But there’s a limit, surely. Would 7 times per person be an appropriate? That’s what he suggested.
Jesus’ immediate reply was, “Not up to 7 times – up to 77 times per person.”

That’s as good as impossible isn’t it? It’s just as well that Jesus gave a reason for this enormous demand – a reason and a key issue.

The text in bold above is not the end of the story – we’ll see that next week.

At this stage though a key issue arises. Jesus said that the first bonded worker owed 200,000 years wages to his master – his king. He also owed that same master his life-long bonded service. That’s a mega debt and a mega constraint on raising funds to pay the debt. The debtor is drowning.

 Did Jesus exaggerate merely for effect? This worker owed a debt equal to the wages of a labourer working for 200,000 years. When the king called him to account for his debt, no wonder he couldn’t pay.

Nevertheless the king, his master, bringing his accounts into proper order and winding everything up, requires that the debt be paid in full.


‘It is shallow nonsense to say God forgives us because he is love. The only ground on which God can forgive us is the cross.’ (Oswald Chambers, writer, 1874-1917)
Why did Jesus specify such a huge amount? This is a parallel. Who is the real king?

And how could the worker pretend that he could pay? How could he say to the king his master – “Have patience and I will pay you everything.” 

What is amazing in the parallel is that the king didn’t say “You lying hound. You can’t pay and never will pay all that you owe to me.” Instead, he listens to his bonded servant, has mercy on him, forgives him the mega debt and sets him free – free from his bonded contract – free....

Do you know a king like that? A king who wants to wipe away all debts and set human beings free?

Richard Syvret

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