Trickle Up Economics

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 122; 149, Nehemiah 7:73b-8:3, 5-18, Revelation 22:14-21, Matthew 18:21-35


A slave owed his king more than a half a million dollars. Because he could not settle the debt, the king was going to sell off  the man and his family to recover what he could. The slave pleaded for some more time, promising he could come up with the money. The king showed mercy. On his way out of the palace, the slave ran into a second slave who owed him about a hundred dollars. When the second slave pleaded for patience, the first slave had him thrown into prison. The king, angered the first slave couldn’t show mercy in turn, had him tortured until his debt was paid in full.

Swap out talents and denarii for dollars, and this summarizes a parable Jesus told about forgiveness. The message is that we have been given a tremendous amount by God, so we should be able to muster at least a fraction of that forgiveness in kind.

This parable also gets at the heart of an important reason we find forgiveness so difficult: we don’t see ourselves reflected in other people as often as we should, and when we do we are likely to condemn them for the traits we hate in ourselves.

Sadly there is no shortage of “family values” advocates caught up in scandal for engaging in behaviors they declare immoral and campaign to make illegal. There are also plenty of people identifying themselves as progressive who turn out to be closeted misogynists and racists. And for some reason, rather than humbly reach across the aisle to establish a dialogue about how we can love and work through the human condition together, we continue to point at specks and ignore planks … all the while trading in actual morals for a sense of moral superiority.

And if right now anyone is thinking about someone else who needs to hear this, instead of how they themselves might be lacking in empathy and extrapolation, respectfully they are missing the point.

All the time we spend declaring and condemning is time we don’t spend listening and understanding. Maybe we can honestly look at someone and say we wouldn’t commit that particular sin or mistake, but when it comes to what we’ve been forgiven, a dime is as good as a dollar. Jesus didn’t leave the casting of the first stone to “he who hasn’t committed adultery” but “he who is without sin.” He didn’t die for some, but for all.

A lack of forgiveness – which necessitates a willingness to see ourselves reflected in our fellows – is a rejection of the forgiveness we have received. It can be difficult to see humanity in others when we are scared, angry, or ashamed but those are the times we need to try the hardest. The king could have said “it was smart of you to try to collect so you could pay me back” but he valued paying mercy forward more. Ultimately all debts are settled through the Prince of Peace, so let’s be generous with ours.

Additional reading: For more thought’s on today’s passage from Matthew, see Love and Forgiveness and Seventy-Seven Times. For more on empathy and extrapolation, see Invitation: Extrapolation.

Comfort: Forgiveness has more reward than cost.

Challenge: Talk with someone you are having trouble forgiving. If you can’t yet bring yourself to forgive, try to just listen.

Prayer: Merciful and loving God, may gratitude for your forgiveness fill my heart until it overflows into the world. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever condemned someone for something you were also guilty of? If so, how do you feel about that now?

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