Honor Mr. Potato Head?
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 18:23a (Holman) “For this reason,. . .”
What reason? Why did Jesus feel compelled to reinforce His teachings on forgiveness by telling a long, detailed story? Because Peter’s question “As many as seven times?” proved he was clueless about the true nature of Christian forgiveness. It’s easy to state – forgive all people all the time – but hard to do.
Forgiveness is never easy. It’s always difficult. It requires the offended one to let the offender go free, and to absorb without revenge the pain of the offense, a hurt not self-induced, but delivered from the hand of another. The Scottish clan feuds lasted from generation to generation, until offended people were willing to forgive, to absorb the hurt, and thereby break the vicious cycle.
Forgiveness is not a virtue inherent in us. It is certainly not our natural bent. We are a vindictive race. King Self reigns supreme. King Louis XII of France said, “Nothing smells so sweet as the dead body of your enemy.”
Since it’s hard to overcome our selfish bent, forgiveness is rare. John Wesley, pondering how vast Christian forgiveness is meant to be, asked, “If this be Christianity, where do Christians live?” In other words, “Where are they?”
In verses 23-35, Jesus told a lengthy story to explain why forgiveness must be unlimited. This concept was important to Jesus. He felt if we better understood why we are to forgive, the question “How many times?” would answer itself. “For this reason”, to drive home a point, Jesus told a parable.
Matt. 18:23b “. . .the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves.”
Do not limit the application of this story to the final Day of Judgment. God settles accounts with us often. He inventories us from time to time in this life. The great final reckoning is preceded by multiple preliminary reckonings.
We may not recognize God’s evaluations of us as being such, but on many occasions we face the King and sense a need to give a reckoning for what we have done, and are doing, with our lives. At times God forces His people to reflect, to look inward, to think of their duty to God their Creator and Savior.
It can be sickness, misfortune, a celebration (e.g. wedding or a birth), new year, sermon, song, personal witness, or conscience pain. A lady missionary I know was once deep in paganism. Her God was radical environmentalism. She believed all was wonderful, and had no sense of sin, till one day she threw a crumpled piece of paper on the ground rather than into a trash can. For the first time her conscience was smitten, and she felt she was a sinner. That moment began a pilgrimage to seek out true forgiveness, a journey that ended at Calvary.
God, if He chooses, can spark inner stirrings of discontent. Theologians call it conviction, the moment the Holy Spirit forces a person to face their sin head-on, and to sense their need for God’s forgiveness through His Son Jesus.
Matt. 18:24a “When he began to settle accounts, one who owed 10,000 talents . . .”
10,000 was the largest numerical term in Greek. To go past it required lesser numbers to be juggled. For instance, when John saw the angels, living creatures, and elders around God’s throne, he said their number was “ten thousands of ten thousands, and thousands of thousands” (literal Greek).
A talent was the largest denomination of currency. Highest number and biggest currency cause a feeding frenzy by numismatists and mathematicians to calculate the worth of this amount. Coin collectors and arithmeticians love this kind of challenge. Being of the latter, I can’t resist the urge to take the plunge.
The total annual revenue Rome collected from the provinces of Idumea, Judea, Samaria, Galilee, and Perea was 800 talents. In other words, this servant owed the equivalent of 12.3 years of taxes collected in five provinces.
Let’s come at it from a different angle. A denarii was one day’s pay. A talent equaled 6,000 denarii. It took a laborer about 1,000 weeks (19.23 years) to earn one talent. 10,000 required 10,000,000 weeks, about 192,307 years.
I realize much of this info is useless. But I cannot tell you how satisfying it has been to my inner mathematician to research this, and share it with you.
Hear the bottom line. 10,000 talents was an impossible debt for anyone to repay. It was gazillions of dollars, larger than a King’s ransom. This is how much we each owe God. 10,000 talents. It’s hopeless. Our debt is infinite.
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone.
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
In my hand no price I bring;
Simply to Thy cross I cling (Toplady)
Before God we are all bankrupt, utterly, totally, unable to pay what we owe. This raises a question. What does it mean to be God’s debtor? We use debt to figuratively describe the obligation to God we have all failed to meet.
God invested in each of our lives in His creation, the crucifixion, Christ’s resurrection. Rather than respond to His dealings aright, we misappropriate His investments in us by squandering His blessings, disobeying His laws, ignoring the Holy Spirit, and refusing to submit to Jesus. We all owe God big time.
Matt. 18:24b “. . . was brought before him.”
The slave didn’t come voluntarily. He was “brought.” Sinners by nature shrink away in terror from the one true holy living God. Other gods are popular usually because they lack holiness, and don’t require judgment. The real God is righteous, requiring sinners to repent and change, which they don’t want to do.
A false god can be made in our image. We are able to fashion it to suit our own personal tastes. We can craft a “Mr. Potato Head” god, putting pieces together any way we want to. Commitment and repentance become optional.
As Albert Schweitzer pointed out in “The Quest of the Historical Jesus,” people who claim to be searching for Jesus (God) apart from Biblical revelation are like people peering down a well. They look and look and look, completely unsatisfied until they finally find their own devised Jesus, who happens to bear a remarkable resemblance to the seeker’s face mirrored in the water.
It is not our prerogative to cast God in our own image. The Creator of the Universe is not subject to being molded by creatures. Our responsibility is to come to God on His terms, seeking His mercy based on our repentance.