The lectionary passages today are troublesome.
I wonder how my times over the years I have started a blog with that thought. It seems to me that often the readings challenge and disturb. However, I don’t think that is a bad thing. Sometimes it is good to be challenged and disturbed. It causes us to think, to reassess our lives and values.
Today’s passages are all about forgiveness and not judging others. In the Old Testament the text is about Joseph forgiving the brothers who have caused him harm.
In the epistle the readers are urged to accept each other’s differences without judgment. It is a timely word for the days in which we live. It is perhaps a theme to meditate on this week.
However, I want to focus on the passage in Matthew. The gospel story reverts to the theme of forgiveness. In the story Peter asks Jesus should he forgive someone seven times. Jesus replies not seven but seventy times seven. Then Jesus tells a parable to illustrate forgiveness.
The parable is intriguing and raises more questions than it gives answers. The parable is about a king.
At this point I want to remind people that I do not think that characters in parables should be representative of anyone, human or divine. They are simply stories to illustrate a point and should be read as such. I do not think the king in this parable is meant to be God although I have heard that expressed. If one tries to equate the king to God, it would leave us with a god who is angry and sent someone to be tortured. Much better to just read the parable as a simple story which is used to illustrate a point.
Anyway, back to this story . . .
The king wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. One slave owed him 10,000 talents.
Another aside . . . why would a slave owe his/her owner money? I have tried to do a brief research on this but have found nothing. Perhaps someone else has the answer. It was a practice for a free person who had huge debts to go into slavery with their owner undertaking to pay their debts. But this does not seem to be the case in this story. However, this is just a point of interest, it does not affect the parable as we just accept this slave owed a huge amount.
The king’s first reaction was that the slave’s wife, children and other possessions must be sold to pay the debt. The slave begged the king for time saying he would repay. The king had pity on him and forgave the debt.
So far, it is a nice simple story of forgiveness and kindness. As is often the case with parables there is a twist.
A fellow-slave owed the forgiven-slave a much smaller amount. The story tells us the forgiven-slave went to him, caught him by the neck, demanded payment and ultimately had him gaoled. The word got back to the king who was angry at his lack of mercy, handed him over to be tortured and withdrew his forgiveness of the debt.
So what initially seemed a nice parable has become a “text of terror” to quote Trible. This is the point where it raises many questions about forgiveness.
Perhaps the biggest ones for me are;
Can forgiveness be taken back?
(The king withdrew his forgiveness of the slave’s debt)
Are there conditions (or expectations) to forgiveness?
(The king was angry because the slave in turn did not forgive)
Trible also talks about not letting a text go without it yielding a blessing.
So what is the blessing in this text. Maybe, it is that it causes us to think about forgiveness and to search ourselves about what it means to each of us. Forgiveness isn’t cheap or easy. It should not be undertaken lightly. Maybe, this week take some time to ponder over my questions (and any of your own).
Perhaps, ask ourselves if we forgive someone, is it conditional?
Are they required to behave the same way?
Do we get upset if they seemingly don’t show the same forgiveness to others?
Can this text yield a blessing?