“A few dollars.” That’s the NIV84’s footnote in Sunday’s gospel suggesting a contemporary equivalent of a 100 denarii debt. Doesn’t that miss the point? 100 denarii was 100 days wages for a day laborer. Multiply 100 days by 8 hours by today’s minimum wage. That’s several thousand dollars. Such a debt wouldn’t easily be forgotten between two servants.
That’s the challenge! Especially when the fellow servant is someone into whose life we’ve poured our love, our mental scanner beeps loudly as it reads the bar code on the offense and calculates the amount due. How hard not to demand our 100 denarii:
When a spouse discounts our kindness and treats it as nothing; or
When a member demeans our ministry even though we’ve been there for them in crisis; or
When a co-worker drops the ball and makes the entire team look incompetent.
We all have ways of saying “cash or credit” toward our fellow servant (usually more subtly than choking). Perhaps it’s internally fuming while delivering the bill with a cold shoulder. Maybe we nobly defer payment…until the next incident causes us to explode, exacting a balloon payment with interest postdated to the original offense. Or maybe compassion is “out of stock” the next time they need it.
How much of the smoldering resentment we can feel in family or ministry is, at root, our own proud heart’s calculations that others have piled up too sizable a debt?
“A few dollars”? People owe us more! And yet…did the footnote catch the final point? Martin Franzmann notes that Herod’s annual income was 900 talents. What is 100 days wages of a day laborer compared to 11 years of a king’s income? My lust for justice with hands around my debtor’s neck stands in stark contrast to my Savior’s longing for mercy with his hands on a cross. Is there greater wickedness than to so distort God’s image? 10,000 talent debt? Jesus may be underestimating mine!
Jesus’ closing warning says plainly that the creaking sound I hear is the jailers opening the prison doors to receive proud servants like me! Mercy or justice? There is room for only one to rule in my heart. To insist on living by justice hands the Judge a verdict written by my own hand: by justice I will die.
Suddenly, there are no sweeter words than Jesus praying at his cross: “Father, forgive, them, for they don’t know what they are doing!” Doesn’t that lead us to pray: “Lord Jesus, thank you for placing your nail marked hands, not around my throat, but around my heart! Day by day keep taking from me my proud heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh! Remind me, O merciful Savior, that if you kept a record of sin, I could not stand! By that empower my heart to refuse to keep petty or not-so-petty records of my fellow servants’ sins. Make me merciful, O merciful Lord!”
Lord, cleanse the depths within our souls
And bid resentment cease;
Then, bound to all in bonds of love
Our lives will spread your peace. (CW 493:4)