In response to Peter’s question, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive?” Jesus offers the parable of the forgiving king.
Here is the parable. A king was owed a ridiculous sum of money. Kings usually are. How ridiculous?—ten thousand talents! Some say it was equivalent to five tons of pure silver. How can anyone owe anyone that much money? We know the answer. He must have lived high off the hog with a high interest VISA, and then overspent on a ‘no money down’ mortgage from a sub lender, and then financed a pricey ride with lots of expensive options—too many depreciables, too much ‘buy now pay later’, too much borrowed money with excessive usury. All that debt snowballed—missed payments, late fees, next month double the trouble. It can happen quickly. Still, five tons of pure silver?—that takes, well, talent (ten thousand of them to be exact)!
Finally the financial judgment day came and the poor fool stood before the king and turned his pockets inside out—empty!—not even enough coin to cover the day’s interest. In Jesus’ time this meant forced slavery, or debtor’s prison—or worst of all, since a king was involved, a death sentence. In any case the man’s life was over. If he lived to a hundred he could never work off the debt. If he lived to two hundred he could never work off the debt. Actually, if you do the math, given the daily wage and the amount owed, this man would have to work for 150,000 years, or 3000 life sentences, to work off this debt! (citation) It wasn’t happening. There was no redeeming this mess. It was too big. And that’s the point really. The amount owed the king was not meant to be quantifiable. Jesus made sure of it. It was meant to be ridiculous, absurd, and impossible. This is a parable about sin and forgiveness remember. And that is the nature of the wrongs committed against us, or that we commit against others. They are not quantifiable. The sin that mutually destroys us has no numerical value. We cannot work it off. It is insurmountable. It is a burden too heavy for the human race to bear, this is the power of sin that rules over us and keeps us in bondage.
So the king demanded the man’s life be sold, along with his wife, and all his children, and all his possessions. Did you think it would just be the man who would suffer for his outstanding balance? If only it were that easy to face the consequences of settling our accounts.
My mom knits blankets. As a kid I watched her nimble fingers bend, and tug, and push those knitting needles stitch after stitch, row after row, skein after skein. I remember thinking how awful this monotonous task must be—the same motion, the same stitch, time and again. She never kept the blankets she made, she always gave them away. If someone new started coming to church, she knitted them a blanket. If a neighbor was having a tough time, she knitted them a blanket. When her grandchildren were born, she knitted them each a blanket. I suppose there are blankets of hers all across the country by now. But you should not think she mass produced them. No, each blanket took far too much time to make. That was my objection; each blanket took hours and hours. Just buy a blanket! Certainly your time is more valuable. I remember one particular project. She was working two jobs, and to unwind in the evening, sore and tired, she picked up her needles and skeins and hummed away on a precious afghan. She was three quarters of the way through when I heard a frustrated moan. When I walked into the living room to check on her she was red faced and teary, tearing away at the yarn she was knitting—pulling out stitch after stitch, row after row. She had made a mistake counting somewhere in the early going of the project, and had just discovered the error. She could not live with the flaw and refused to give as a gift something less than perfect. She feverishly and angrily pulled apart her hours of hard work. She pulled apart so many good stitches to get to the stitch that went wrong, the unfurling yarn falling in a loose clump at her feet. The whole blanket came undone, right before my eyes.
We are all like the yarn in those blankets, tightly woven in neat stitches, every last one of us. We are joined in our togetherness, and when we come apart, we all come apart. How can I be responsible for the sins of Adam we say? That stitch was knitted together so long ago. Do you forget that we are all part of the same garment? We are all Adam, and Adam is all of us. We all stand before the king with our pockets turned out, and our arms reaching toward the guards marching our family away because of our inability to pay up—because of our many transgressions, and the power of sin that holds us in bondage. These are the situations we find ourselves in—way behind the curve, way over our heads, way back in the pack. Sometimes we crash in the first lap, and the race is long over—we never had a chance. That is the power of sin, and we are helpless against it.
The man in our story, under the weight of such sin, fell to his knees, and cried out to the king, “Have patience on me, and I will pay you everything.” What a funny thing to say. Patience? Do you know how long this balance has been outstanding? When the first mortgage payment was missed they sent a letter. When the second payment was missed they called every other day. When the third payment was missed the attorney’s got involved. When the lender finally filed with the court and began judicial foreclosure proceedings the whole court system was overrun and backed up (apparently there are a lot of people not paying their bills). And then it became contested, and there were delays and adjournments of hearings. It took over a year of empty pockets before we got to this day. You’ve been coming up short for a long time friend. All of us have. We are all broken and destroyed by the down turn in the economy. It’s been rough lately. The king is feeling the pinch too you know. Patience? You have to be kidding me?—too little, too late. And what is this talk about “paying everything.” You are not paying everything. You couldn’t pay it when it was one payment behind, how are you going to pay now when you owe five tons of pure silver? You aren’t. It’s a lie. We do that–we lie to the king, hoping to bide time. I’ll come up with it I promise, just one more day, a week, a month. I got a line on a new job, I swear! No we don’t. We’re just scared, saying anything! What are they going to do with my wife and children? It’s not their fault. It’s all our faults.
I don’t know why the king does what the king does. How awful this monotonous task must be: the same story, the same cries for help, the same empty pockets, the same empty promises over and over again. Yet each one of us is different, not one of us is mass produced. There is so much time invested in each of us. But no matter how much time is given, we are all deeply flawed. Why would a king sit on his throne and pull us apart until our mistake was undone? Why would a king clutter his throne room with our unfurled skeins? Why would a king do the monotonous work of knitting us back together again? I wonder—does the king feel responsible?! But he meant the blanket for good. It was a gift, an expression of love. Why doesn’t he just buy a blanket? They are cheap you know. Make a machine, and mass produce them—all the same, perfect, without blemish.
“And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.” The king forgave five tons of pure silver in debt, 150,000 years of wages, 3,000 life sentences. He pulled out almost every last stitch, in order to fix what was wrong. Have you ever been given a second chance—a really big second chance? That is what this man was given. Reading the parable is like watching a ‘feel-good’ movie. Just now they brought his wife and children back to him. He is still on his knees, and they are embracing in the throne room of the king. They have their life back. No one came up with the money. The king took the wound—it was the king’s loss. The audience is misty-eyed.
Parables always end too late. God never knows when to roll the credits. Because I was done! That was a good show, and the final scene was perfect. It’s not God’s fault though. The parable continues because we had the gall to ask the question. “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive?” No we didn’t, Peter asked that question, a long time ago. And we are all Peter, and Peter is all of us.
The same man, on that same day, as he went out from that same court, found someone who owed him a hundred denarii. Our lucky man owed 10,000 talents, and was forgiven. One talent equaled 5,475 denarii. Our lucky man owed 54,750,000 denarrii, and was forgiven! And when this other man could not pay this paltry debt, our forgiven man put his hands around the other man’s throat and choked him. Parables always end too late. We had a nice blanket again. And all of the sudden, in that blanket that was just made perfect, another stitch went wrong. Do you know there is guilt in even asking the question. Shame on us.
I know a man. I’ve known him for quite some time. He has failed me, but only in small ways. He has failed others in huge ways. His blanket is a series of gnarly, stained, knots. It resembles nothing of value. It gives no warmth. It is an eyesore. His pockets are empty. Yet there are people who are so long suffering with him, and they forgive him his unquantifiable and innumerable debts. The other day I talked with him, and he was angry. I have never seen him so angry. Apparently two other men, business associates, had cut him out of a promised deal. As he described the betrayal his face grew fiery red, and his bottom lip stuck out and quivered, and his movements became sharp and angular. His eyes turned menacing as he told me what he would do to these men if he found them. He dreamed of violence against them. The more he spoke the more worked up he became, at one point he grabbed the front of my shirt with both fists to give illustration to his rage. Here was a man who had millions outstanding, and wanted death for two men who owed him hundreds. I told him to share in the sufferings of Christ, and to resist repaying evil for evil. He told me he could never do that, not now, no way. So I said I would pray for him. And so I am praying for him, and in my best moments of humility I know I am praying also for me—because we are all part of the same blanket, and we are unraveling together. Do you know the wisdom in praying for your enemies? Do you know what it means to pull at the end string and undo the stitches in tears of frustration? When you forgive another you forgive yourself. That is the wisdom.
I know another man. I’ve known him all my life. And the power of sin has always held him in bondage. And he has continued to fail. And someone needs to come along and undo his stitches and put him back together again. He needs a throne room moment where pity is the only currency that matters. I need it. This man is me. So I am removing my hands from the other man’s throat. Take my anger away. Please get rid of it.
And you? The towers have been gone for ten years. Their rubble, like unfurled stitches of yarn in loose piles on the floor, has been removed. And we share in the sufferings of Christ, and it is time to resist repaying evil for evil. Do we know the wisdom in praying for our enemies?
My blanket growing up was blue and yellow. It was perfect, not a stitch out of place. I don’t even know where that blanket is anymore. In my haste to grow up I did not treasure it like I should have. It was a child’s blanket anyway, and I am grown up now. But I wish I still had it. My mother has made the family and I other blankets, and they are on the kids beds, or stored in closets. There are no stitches out of place—she made sure of it. But there will be. And it will take someone like you or me, working two jobs, sore and tired, to do the unthinkable—to make pity the greatest currency of all, and to undo all the wrongs, with love in our hearts, and tears in our eyes, and to take our hands off each other’s throats. Amen.