Getting Out of Debt
When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. (Matthew 18:24-25)
For a number of years now I have been amazed at the stunning truths in the parable of the debtor that have eluded so many but that are now beginning to be seen. This story has made a dramatic change in my own life and personal relationships and continues to do so. Yet this story seems to remain as an inexhaustible resource for further insights and breakthroughs to reveal even more about the amazing forgiveness of our God. Now I am starting to see even more than what has already emerged over a number of years of exploring this with others who are also catching sight of truths in this story.
There are many questions that can be raised in this story so full of still untapped insights. Each line of questions leads down another path to fresh discoveries. I am not going to review here the main thrust of my new understanding of this story, but if you are not familiar with it it would be very helpful to review that first, or much of what I offer here may not make much sense. (You can find previous thoughts on this archived in posts dated from March 18 through May 5, 2012 on my blog site http://biblicalconcepts.blogspot.com/ This was part of an even larger study I did for over three months on the entire chapter of Matthew 18, a study very revealing and convicting for me personally.)
What I want to do is go even deeper here and look at a few more things I have not considered before. So let me start by reviewing a few of my previous questions that have come to mind.
How did this first servant accumulate such an enormous debt? (His debt was equivalent to over 150,000 years worth of normal wages!) And additionally, is this number just a random one that Jesus picked out or does it actually have some significance? I am starting to sense that maybe it is an important number that might tell us something about the bigger picture.
Did this king loan all this money to his servant willingly or did this man embezzle much of it without the king's permission being a corrupt steward and having access to the king's riches?
If the latter is true, would not most, if not all of the other servants of the king also be indebted to this one servant who had maneuvered himself into such a strategic position where he could wield enormous power over everyone else? All the other servants may well have been living in fear created by their own indebtedness to him and not knowing how to resolve their own dilemma. I came to this conclusion some time ago while pondering just how a person could possibly go through that much money in even one lifetime. If he used this enormous amount of resources to make himself into a loan shark, that could explain how he could rake up such an enormous level of obligation himself. But it also implicates the ripple effects on everyone else in this story.
I have begun to notice that in many instances when Jesus spoke, He seemed to be speaking over the heads of His immediate listeners to a much larger but unseen listening audience and addressing much larger issues than the current local situation in the story. Once that is taken into consideration, all sorts of things that on the surface of Jesus' words may seem strange or almost irrelevant suddenly begin to make much more sense. I am starting to believe that when we take into account the unseen witnesses all around who were intently watching and even interacting in events in the life of Jesus, along with a better perspective of the context of the great war of the universe in which Jesus was involved, things that He said take on far greater implications, many that have been totally overlooked by those who want to restrict His words to only what can be seen in the immediate story.
Previously as I have pondered the implications in this story, it occurred to me one day that this indebted servant could actually a reference to, at least in part, the greatest debtor the universe has ever known. This big-time spender/squanderer of God's resources has plunged into debt-bondage everyone who has 'borrowed' from him, and he now subjects them under constant fear because it is hopeless to ever pay him back. What I am starting to believe God is wanting to reveal to us in this story is that, because the debtor we are in slavery to is already forgiven, then he has no right to collect from us debts that are all founded on resources he himself owed, but a debt that has long been canceled by God's forgiveness.
To attempt to collect on a debt that no longer has any basis of validity is one of the highest forms of fraud; it is immoral and illegal to conduct such activity. In this story, since the money loaned to the other servants could likely have originated from the first debt, not only would it be improper to loan it to others in the first place but it would be treasonous to try to collect on those secondary debts after it had been made explicitly clear that the original debt (whether from embezzlement or otherwise) had been canceled and forgiven permanently. (If you have questions about this assertion you definitely need to read previous explanations of this parable.)
Given the perspective of Satan being the greatest forgiven debtor ever, it becomes clearer what our situation is in relation to him. While Satan is still incessantly trying to convince everyone that we too owe debts, (whether to God or to himself), by keeping us living under stress and fear of debt-collectors we remain unaware that we should instead be resting in the spirit of the Jubilee year of forgiveness as Jesus announced. (See passages at the end of this piece.) Yet in remaining ignorant of this, Satan is able to keep hoodwinking us and manipulating us into sin because of our confusion about our true situation.
Furthermore, as we remain trapped in fear and living under a false sense of indebtedness, feeling constant trepidation over what might happen to us at any time, we also absorb into our hearts the very spirit of those we fear and as a result become debt-collectors ourselves, thus perpetuating the great scam. In attempting to collect debts from others (emotional or otherwise) while refusing to accept and embrace that our own debts have already been forgiven, we come to reflect the spirit and actions of the original treasonous arch-servant who once left heaven still embezzling the Father's riches while refusing to be reconciled by His forgiveness.
In refusing to believe in and embrace the forgiveness of all debts by the Father, we inevitably are sucked into the mindset of the great debt-collector and join him in his sordid activities of enslaving others emotionally through our own vain attempts to pay our debts just as we find in this story. But there is no good outlet on this path, for no satisfactory repayment is even possible. This mindset is all a result of an illusion created by lies about God that only leads ultimately to death.
Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. (Hebrews 2:14-15)
Yet until one becomes willing to humble themselves and give up on every notion of ever being able to pay back their debts and to instead embrace the way of forgiveness, they will continue to live trapped in this imaginary world riddled with artificial assumed debts along with all the invented formulas for supposedly being able to satisfy those debts. Sadly, all the while we are resisting the reality that there is no legitimate basis for any of our debts, and that as a result of a debt-based society we continue to feel driven to collect on supposed debts owed to us by others. But in the process of debt-collecting we destroy trust and love with all those toward whom we hold offenses.
What is the route for us to be able to escape our fatal situation and to transform our whole mindset? Jesus gives the answer in this story. But I have not taken much time to look at this part of it carefully.
"So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. (Matthew 18:31)
This story makes it clear that it does no good to confront a dishonest debt-collector about the legitimacy of a debt they claim we owe them. The second servant tried to reason with the first servant-turned-debt-collector who was now strangling him, but to no avail.
What should this tell us? When like the first servant, we refuse to believe we have already forgiven, choosing instead to attempt full repayment of an impossibly large debt, there is nothing left in us that will respond to reasonable requests. And for the other servant, we learn that in the face of an angry debt-collector (holding onto offenses almost always leads to anger), there is nothing one can do to find mercy in one who has already rejected the very existence of mercy.
Our only hope is to appeal straight to the Source from which all wealth originates and to make the case that things have gone terribly wrong. Our only hope is to appeal to the higher authority who has already made it public that mercy is to be the currency in His government, not debt repayment. This is the thrust of much of Jesus' teachings and must become the theme of everything we call the gospel.
We have to trust that our supreme Master can handle things from here and we have little else we can do about it ourselves. Satan has enslaved all of us and duped us into believing that we, along with him, all owe an enormous debt and that we all have to pay it back or God will get His revenge. But Jesus came to expose this as all a big lie, a sham, a conspiracy of the highest order. So when we find ourselves under suffocating attacks from the great debt-collector or we find ourselves imprisoned due to his accusations against us, only the highest in the chain of presumed debts has the authority to intervene and rescue us from this massive fraud invented by faulty thinking and outrageous corruption. Instead of trying to reason with debt-collector on a rampage attempting to free himself from a debt of his own he refuses to relinquish, like these fellow servants we must go directly to the top and seek redress and relief for all the violence and anger generated by false beliefs about debt.
But now another major question arises. What if we can't bring ourselves to believe that God has already forgiven Satan? It is one thing to believe that God forgives us of our debts, and even that is a struggle for many of us. But when it comes to forgiveness for the greatest terrorist who has ever existed, many people simply cannot stretch their concept of God that far. Yet what I see in this story is exactly this proposition, for until we become willing to embrace a God big enough to forgive any and all debts no matter how obscenely large, we will always struggle to determine just where the cutoff point is for forgiveness. And that allows Satan to exploit this question in our minds and lead us to ever doubt God's willingness to forgive us. In short, the enemy is still debt-collecting in our hearts by exploiting these doubts about forgiveness to hold us enslaved to the emotional power of fear and sin in our lives.
This parable not only exposes problems resulting from unbelief about our relationship to God, it also reveals a domino effect from a choice to disbelieve that we are forgiven. The first servant simply refused to believe in the forgiveness clearly articulated by the king twice in this parable. This is evidenced in the way he immediately began to treat other servants. Unbelief and unforgiveness are the sure formula producing fear, disunity, distrust, anger, violence and abuse of every kind. Resisting forgiveness and choosing instead to attempt repayment of un-repayable debts always produces irrational behavior and attitudes that damage and destroy other relationships. The solution for all of this is not by modifying our debt-collecting techniques but rather believing in and embracing the universal forgiveness of all debts as represented by the biblical year of Jubilee.
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19 NRSV)
Jesus came to this earth to announce publicly in his very first sermon that as far as God was concerned Jubilee had now arrived. That meant that not only all debts were to be considered completely and irrevocably forgiven but that all slaves were to be set free, all prisoners were to be released and heaven's version of justice was to govern every relationship. Heaven's kind of justice has nothing to do with repayment of old debts but everything to do with restoration of healthy relationships and restoring everyone to their proper place in God's family based on love. It is extremely dangerous to mingle any sort of punitive counterfeit justice into our ideas about the kingdom of heaven, for the ways of Satan have no part in the kingdom of heaven – there is no place for them there (Rev. 12:7-8).
The most compelling reasons for us to forgive others is not just because God tells us to, it is because anything other that unconditional forgiveness locks us outside the circle of life and prevents us from entering into the kind of kingdom Jesus came to restore. Holding onto any debt or offense is to place ourselves under the authority of the great tyrant of all debt-collecting which will plunge us into all sorts of fear, malfunction, pain and ultimately death. There is no room for amalgamation or compromise between God's principles of life and the methods and attitudes of the enemy of life. We either embrace God's heart of forgiveness and love to become reconciled, or we choose the paths leading to misery and death. And these consequences are never punishments from God but are rather unavoidable consequence of choosing to reject the reality of God's heart of forgiving love toward us.
These positions I find in all of the teachings of Jesus are radical, extreme and disturbing. Yet at the same time they are perfectly consistent with the principles seen in this story that describe the reality of our condition. It is time to take Jesus more seriously and to embrace the radical path of forgiveness.
At the end of every seven years you shall grant a remission of debts. This is the manner of remission: every creditor shall release what he has loaned to his neighbor; he shall not exact it of his neighbor and his brother, because the LORD'S remission has been proclaimed. From a foreigner you may exact it, but your hand shall release whatever of yours is with your brother. However, there will be no poor among you, since the LORD will surely bless you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, if only you listen obediently to the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all this commandment which I am commanding you today. For the LORD your God will bless you as He has promised you, and you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; and you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you.
If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.
Beware that there is no base thought in your heart, saying, 'The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,' and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the LORD against you, and it will be a sin in you. You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings. For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, 'You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.' (Deuteronomy 15:1-11)
Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:30-36)
And the Lord said, "Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions.
But if that slave says in his heart, 'My master will be a long time in coming,' and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more." (Luke 12:42-48)
And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.'
But his master answered and said to him, 'You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.'
For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 25:24-30)