Many of Jesus’ parables were totally outlandish because that was exactly the point he was trying to make. Who has a log in their eye, sows their precious seeds all over a path, and who leaves 99 sheep alone to go on a search for the missing one? The Jews already knew that God could have fellowship with sinners. They already knew that God was willing to atone for sins. They knew they were supposed to be holy and they knew the importance of love. What they did not understand was the length God himself, through his Son, was willing to go to in order to accomplish those things. He was willing to take up a cross and die for his people. Bulls and goats were only a temporary arrangement. The death of Jesus would set things straight forever.
In Matthew18 we have another one of Jesus’ outlandish parables. A man comes in to work one day and finds an envelope on his desk from his employer. Expecting his paycheck, he cuts the envelop open and out slides a collections notice. He skims the note and finds at the bottom in large black numbers the sum total of his debts…
His blood runs cold. He quickly shuffles the letter under some papers as he hears footsteps approaching. He turns around and there stand three men in uniform. “Mr. Johnson, you are coming with us.” In moments he finds himself in court. He looks across the room and there sits his employer. The judge reads the charges, the lawyers make their respective cases, and a verdict is reached. “Guilty!” He is crushed. His wife and children will be devastated. As he is drug from the court room kicking and screaming, he pleads…”Sir, you know I have worked hard for you all of these years, my family will be destroyed, I will pay it back I promise!”
The guards chuckle. “Pay it back? You fool. You couldn’t pay back that amount if you could live another 1000 years. Pay it back, did you hear him Stanley?”
The employer stands up. He turns toward Mr. Johnson and calmly says, “Let him go. I have cancelled all the debt.”
What generosity. What kindness and mercy. We are struck off guard by the grace displayed toward a man who clearly owed more than he could pay and an employer who cared more about the man than he cared about the debt. If that was the end of the story, Jesus already made a powerful point about the grace and mercy of God. But there was more.
Mr. Johnson thanks his employer. He assures him that he will never have any more trouble out of him. As Mr. Johnson is leaving the courtroom he notices one of his fellow employees he bought lunch for last week. His demeanor changes as his co-worker approaches. He grabbed him by the throat and began choking him yelling, “Pay up you ungrateful fool!” He notices his co-worker won’t look him in the eye as he continues to choke him. “Why don’t you look me in the eye and tell me you will pay it all back!” His co-worker points over his shoulder. Johnson turns and sees his employer standing a few feet away looking right at him.
“Guards.” He says, “Take Mr. Johnson and lock him up for a long time. Make sure he pays back everything he owes me.”
“How many times should we forgive someone who sins against us?” Peter asked (Mtt 18:21). Jesus’ responds with this story about how the forgiveness of God serves as a model and motivation for our forgiveness of others. In no uncertain terms Jesus describes the enormity of our own debt to God. He uses the largest currency of their day (the talent) and the highest number they had in their vocabulary (10,000 – myrias). Jesus is saying God is willing to forgive us of the largest thing we can possibly conceive of. What other people owe us is pennies in comparison. That certainly puts what others “owe” us in perspective!
When you are faced with the decision of whether or not to forgive, remember where you are standing. You are standing just outside a courtroom and have just had the guards remove the shackles from your hands and your feet. You have just been set free from insurmountable debt and from the courtroom. You have just walked out a free man when you see that person who owes you. How will we treat them?
For you math wizards out there here is the calculation:
10,000 talents = 164,000 years wages (Blomberg’s Jesus and the Gospels)
Average household income in the U.S. 2006 = $48,201
164,000 X $48,201 = $7,904,964,000