“Money talks.” You’ve heard that before, right?
Our parable for this week is Jesus’ story about the two debtors (Luke 7:36-50). Let’s do a little math. Hang in there. This isn’t too difficult.
One debtor owes 500 denarii (about one and a half years’ wages for a laborer—so let’s say $30,000). The other owes 50 denarii (one tenth—so let’s call it $3,000). Neither can pay, and the banker forgives them both their debt. How do you think they feel? How do they respond?
One thing I love about the parables—the stories Jesus tells—is that they connect the mind and the heart. We find ourselves inside the stories, and so they get inside of us—and they do their work.
Can you think of a time in which you experienced forgiveness? How did it make you feel?
I am reminded of another story Jesus told about two debtors. This one is called “The Unmerciful Servant” (Matthew 18:23-35). In this one there is a debtor who owes 10,000 talents. One talent was the equivalent of 15 years’ wages for a laborer. So believe it or not, this servant owes the equivalent of 3 BILLION dollars! The servant pleads with the king, and out of pity for him the king forgives the servant his debt. The forgiven servant then goes out and sees a servant who owes him 100 denarii (less than one five millionths of what he himself was just forgiven!). The forgiven servant--even after being released of his astronomical debt—even after being asked to have patience with the one who owes him—does NOT have mercy. He does not forgive. In fact, he has the one who owes him money thrown into prison.
Is money “talking” here to you? Does this story get to you? Doesn’t it make you angry that this servant has been forgiven so much, and yet seems so oblivious about it all? It hasn’t changed him. It hasn’t softened his heart. It hasn’t made him grateful, or merciful, or different.
The Greek word “paraballo” means to “lay alongside” or “throw down beside.” That’s what we’re supposed to do. Take these stories and put them beside your life, your stories, and let Jesus’ stories do their work. Let them talk to you.
One story I “lay alongside” this story is the story of Jean Valjean. Do you remember him? He’s the main character in Les Miserables. Jean Valjean is a convicted criminal. He finishes serving his time in prison and he spends a night at a priest’s home. He steals from the priest and leaves in the middle of the night, but he is caught. The police bring him back to the priest’s home to confirm that a robbery has taken place. Jean Valjean expects to go back to prison.
But there is a huge surprise. The priest says, “Ah, my friend, you forgot the candlesticks! I meant to give you the silver candlesticks, too!” Jean Valjean (and the police!) are stunned. There is unexpected mercy here. Surprising grace. Jean Valjean is forgiven. And it changes his life forever. The rest of the story is about how he shows mercy to others.
This season of Lent—these 40 days of preparation for remembering Jesus’ crucifixion and Jesus’ resurrection—is a chance to put ourselves in these stories. Do you FEEL the freedom, the joy, the release, the gratitude of ALL that God has forgiven you? Can you let that forgiveness change how you look at yourself, and how you look at and treat others?
Every time we pray The Lord’s Prayer we are remembering these stories. “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
Money talks. Let’s listen! Let’s remember the size of our debts, and the greatness of God’s mercy.