Matthew 18:23-27 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything. The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt, and let him go.”
Let’s talk about the man’s debt. Sometimes it is hard to come up with modern dollar equivalents for biblical currency. Let’s look at it this way. This parable measures money with two terms: the talent and the denarius. A denarius was the amount of money you would pay an unskilled worker for a day’s work. One talent was worth 6000 denarii. That’s the equivalent of a little over 19 years of work. The servant in Jesus’ story was in debt to the tune of 10,000 talents, or the sum total of all his wages for the next 190,000 years. This is what you call a bad case of overextended credit.
The king in the parable was no fool. He realized a servant wasn’t going to be able pay off that kind of debt. He decided to cut his losses. “Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.” We deal with bankruptcy differently today, but you get the picture. The debt was immeasurably bigger than anyone could possibly pay.
So what is Jesus teaching us about our sin with the servant’s debt? Just about everyone agrees with the phrase, “Nobody’s perfect.” I have had a few brave (or arrogant) souls tell me that they had stopped sinning, but even they admitted that they had sinned in the past. Convincing people that they are sinners is no big deal.
The size of our problem is the thing no one understands until God reveals it to us. Every inclination of our hearts is evil from childhood, the Lord said at the time of Noah. “Dead in your trespasses and sins” is the way Paul describes our situation to the Ephesians. That’s not “mostly dead,” like Wesley, the hero of the movie The Princess Bride, waiting for Miracle Max to wake him up again. We are dead-dead. A Christian website once noted that non-religious people criticize faith in Jesus as a crutch for weak people. But the criticism understates the situation. Jesus is more like a defibrillator for dead people. There is nothing we can do. Our debt never stops growing as long as we live.
Even after God reveals this, it is hard for most people to accept. The servant in the story is holding on to some shreds of hope he will repay the debt himself. “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.” Right…with whose diamond mine? Our sin, my sin, leaves me no choice but to plead for God’s forgiving mercy.
And that’s exactly what God does. He forgives us in his mercy, over and over, until there is no sin left. “The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt, and let him go.” There are all kinds of feelings the master could have had about his servant at this moment. He could have been hot with anger at the huge loss. He could have been cold and uninterested, like a driver at a stoplight trying not to make eye-contact with the panhandler holding the “will work for food” sign.
The king is moved to pity. When God looks at us in our sin, he sees how it has broken us, the misery we bring on ourselves. He doesn’t want to crush us. He wants to rescue us. Remember how Matthew once described Jesus? “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
He “canceled the debt.” He didn’t negotiate a lower figure and work out a payment plan with his servant. He simply canceled the entire debt at his own expense. That is how the God of the Bible forgives sin. He simply cancels the entire debt, one hundred percent at his own expense.
Then the master “let him go.” He let him walk away, as though he had never borrowed a single dime. There was no fine print. There was no stern warning. He was free. I don’t care what you have done. I’m sure it was terrible. Mine was. I don’t care how many times you have failed. I’m sure you have lost count long ago. I know that I have. The King has let you go. You are completely free. And we all agree–that’s a good thing, right? Because you know, you can never have too much forgiveness, especially when you need it yourself.