“Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.”
Building off our last devotion, we suggested Jesus might want to scream at Peter after his tone deaf question. Hadn’t he been paying attention to Jesus as He taught about the abundance of grace that should be freely given out to the lost, little, childlike sheep who turn to the Lord? And now he wants to limit it to seven?
So Jesus “screams” a parable at him. The volume isn’t cranked up so much through the decibel level as it is in the extremely “loud” language used. Someone has a debt of 10,000 talents. 10,000 talents. There are all sorts of interesting estimates about how much this is. It runs in the billions of dollars.
Who has that sort of debt? Well, in the context for this Gospel, Peter does. Peter asks how to forgive, and Jesus places Peter in the parable, so to speak, as the one who is forgiven much. And he certainly was forgiven much. I’m not sure what the going rate on denial of Christ is, but given it results in eternal damnation, it must be pretty steep. “What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Jesus puts the figure at, roughly, the whole world. That’s some debt.
The king is settling accounts with his servants, which is clearly judgment day. That’s when accounts are given. We often rush over this part of the parable, but doing so misses out what Jesus is screaming at us through His loud language.
Presumably, servants are coming before him who have debts. Isn’t that what it means to “settle accounts”? Then one comes who owes him billions of dollars. A servant. Not a small nation. A servant. How does one even run up that sort of debt?
Furthermore, what about the other servants and their debts? If the king was about to forgive a servant billions of dollars, we have to assume he was willing to forgive the others as well. Was that the case? Is this in fact part of the “loudness” of what Jesus is teaching, how crazily merciful this king was?
Yes, there is something that causes the “certain” servant to stand out, which we’ll get to next devotion. But for now, it shocks us to consider this entire day of accounting could have been one huge day of debt forgiveness, all of it forgiven.
If that’s the case, why did the king “want to settle accounts with his servants”? He knew he’d be willing to forgive massive debt, even the massive debt of servants with questionable character (as we’ll see with the unmerciful servant). Surely there were other servants with less debt and more generous hearts, and surely he would have been willing to forgive them as well. So what’s the whole point of wanting to settle accounts with his servants? For what reason?
The only reason that makes any sense is the king wanted to test his servants, to see if they would bank on his mercy. He could afford to forgive massive debt. He had plenty of wealth, evidently. But for some reason, he really wanted to introduce a new bond between himself and his servants, a bond of Giver and Receiver. “Ask and it shall be given you,” is his end goal. And as we’ll see, he wants this to ripple out into his kingdom.
That’s a pretty cool kingdom. “Go ahead, ask for billions of dollars. I’ll lend it to you, and when you beg for mercy, I’ll forgive it all. This is the sort of kingdom I want.”
Here’s another interesting direction to take the images of the parable. What did the servant do with billions of dollars? Was it poor investments? Was it squandered wealth? We seem to have a character that is potentially like a combination of the prodigal son and the servant given one talent. In any event we get no hint that this servant was, in fact, a billionaire. He wasted his goods in some way, which seems to be the case given he asked for patience – that is, some time – to come up with the repayment plan. Clearly he hadn’t invested wisely.
Also, how does the image Jesus uses, of the debt, relate to what its reference is, that is, sin? To forgive debt is to grant a whole heck of a lot of fun – billions of dollars of fun – at the king’s expense. In the parable, debt means wealth transfer from king to servant. In the spiritual meaning, debt means sin, which is related to wealth transfer how? What did we “borrow” from the Lord God when we sinned? We know He lost His Son, and His life, to cover that debt. So what do we gain in terms of sinning?
It’s an interesting question, isn’t it, when we explore the “debt” metaphor which, after all, makes it in the prayer we pray every day in some translations, “Forgive us our debts.” We owe God something, meaning something was transferred from Him to us, so that we gained the advantage of a loan of something, and He had to cover that loan by the death of His Son, by His Son’s life.
Is it life? Is it a life squandered? The Lord lent us His breath of life. Instead of using that life to have “life to the full,” we wasted it on death and deadly sins. When we give an account, the Lord essentially asks, “What did you do with your life?” We beg for mercy, and the Lord issues forgiveness based on His own Son giving up His life for ours.
This loops us back to a passage quoted above, “What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” The word for soul is “psyche,” which is also “life.” What is a life worth? Whatever it is worth, and it is an incredible amount of worth, we’ve squandered our eternal life, obviously, because we will die. The Lord who lent us our lives will have an accounting of what we did with it. Thankfully, we have a Lord who responds to our prayers for mercy.