Financial debt is part of life, isn’t it? Unless you are very fortunate, monetary debts are almost impossible to avoid – even if it is only the mortgage on our home.
And its not just individuals, is it? whole countries have debt. Almost every nation on earth has debts that it owes to private banks, other governments, and global institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. As I speak, governments are (rightly) running up huge debts as they tackle the coronavirus crisis and keep our economy afloat. Billions are being spent to defeat COVID-19.
Another financial crisis dominates our Gospel passage this morning, as Jesus tells a parable about two servants with debts. Two servants who desperately need debt forgiveness.
Jesus didn’t tell this parable as a lesson in economics, of course. He told it to teach us spiritual truths. You see, today’s parable is about ethics not economics.
Let’s take a quick look at it together this morning…
Our great moral debt
In verses 24 and 25 of our parable, Jesus describes the plight of a King’s servant. A servant with enormous debts and no chance of repaying them. The original Greek text of our passage says his debt was ten thousand talents. One talent alone was the largest monetary unit of the time, so ten thousand talents was an astonishing sum, equivalent to many millions of pounds today. So this servant had no hope of repaying what he owed.
In verse 25 we are told what future awaited this indebted servant – destitution and slavery, not just for himself but for his whole family. Financial justice may have demanded it, but it was terrible prospect for any individual to face.
What’s most sobering about this scenario is that this servant’s debt before his King is a picture of human being’s debt before God.
If we are honest with ourselves, we are all very much like the first servant in our parable. Before our good God, our loving Creator, our one true King, human beings are in massive debt. God has given us every breath we breathe, yet so often we fail to love him and love our neighbour as we should. This moral debt before God is, of course, what the Bible calls ‘sin’. And sin is serious. Left untreated, it can leave people cut off from God forever. Sin can leave us as spiritually destitute as the poor servant in our parable.
God’s amazing grace
The world’s top scientists are urgently searching for an antidote to COVID-19. They are undertaking research that should produce a vaccine against this virus. We hope and pray for their speedy success.
Thankfully, and wonderfully, an antidote to sin already exists. The heart of today’s parable, the heart of the Christian gospel, is that there is already a medicine that can remove our moral debt. Thank God, there is already a vaccine that can cure human being’s spiritual sickness and bring us back to life – back to eternal life in fact.
Because the antidote to sin is God’s amazing grace. God’s grace is his underserved favour and forgiveness that he offers to anyone who puts their faith in his Son. Christ came to heal the sick and calm our storms. But above all, Jesus came to dispense God’s amazing grace.
God’s amazing grace and abounding love is wonderfully illustrated in our parable this morning. It is illustrated by the King’s immediate reaction to the first servant’s plight. In verse 26 the servant falls to his knees and pleads with the King for mercy. “Be patient with me” he says “and I will pay back all I owe”. But the King is more than just patient. He knows the servant has no hope of ever repaying his enormous debt. So in verse 27 the King simply cancels his debt and writes it off entirely. Total debt forgiveness.
Wonderfully, the King’s willingness to forgive his servant is a picture of God’s great willingness to forgive us. It is beautifully expressed in those words of Psalm 103 we heard earlier: “As far as the east is from the west, so far does God remove our transgressions from us.” When people come to Christ for forgiveness, their moral debt is no more.
God’s grace produces grace in us
So, how should we respond to God’s offer of full and final forgiveness? Here the parable has a final lesson for us.
We receive God’s grace by repentance. But genuine repentance is more than just saying “sorry” and asking for God’s pardon. Genuine repentance is sincere and heartfelt, and is shown in a change of attitude to others. God sees into our heart and watches over our lives – he can see when someone’s sorrow is serious and sincere.
As we have seen, the first servant in our parable got off to a great start. He fell on his knees and asked for the King’s mercy. And that is quite right – saying sorry to God is the first element of true repentance.
But the servant’s subsequent actions in verses 28 to 31 of our passage show that his “sorry” was insincere. His subsequent actions show that his repentance wasn’t genuine. Because no sooner does he receive mercy himself, than he withholds mercy from a colleague. He aggressively corners his fellow servant, grabs him and begins to choke him. He demands immediate, full payment for a small debt owed to him.
If this first servant had been truly appreciative of the grace offered to him by his King, he would have shown similar grace to his fellow servant. But instead, in verse 30, he has the poor man thrown into prison until he could pay his debt.
Rightly angered, we learn in verse 34 that the King withdraws his previous offer of forgiveness and has the first servant himself thrown into prison, with little hope of release. The servant’s ruthless behaviour had exposed his insincere repentance, and his lack of genuine gratitude for the grace he himself had been given.
As I finish today, surely the lesson Jesus wants us to learn from this passage is that we must forgive as we have been forgiven. We must show grace and love to others just as God has shown grace and love to us.
Over the coming weeks we will have ample opportunity to show grace and mercy to our friends and neighbours. As people wrestle with all the challenges this coronavirus brings, they will need us to show them amazing grace, lavish kindness, great generosity. So do pick up the phone to a friend this week. Do offer to do some shopping for the housebound. Do pray for those afflicted by this virus and anxious about the future. In short, let’s imitate God’s amazing grace ourselves.
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