Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 51; 148, Numbers 13:1-3, 21-30, Romans 2:25-3:8, Matthew 18:21-35
A slave owed his king an unpayable sum. The king decided to sell the slave’s family to collect the debt, but the slave begged for mercy. The king felt pity, released him, and forgave the debt. As the slave walked away, he met a second slave owing him a hundredth of what the king had forgiven. He demanded payment, and when it wasn’t forthcoming he had the second slave jailed. When the king learned this, he revoked his mercy and had the first slave tortured until he paid.
This parable was how Jesus answered Peter’s question: “how often should I forgive?” The story tells us whatever debt we feel someone owes us, God has already forgiven us a debt a hundred (or more!) times greater.
“Tough love” gets tossed around quite a bit. We seem to be firm believers in the power of consequences. It may be fine for parents fostering the values of children, or managers coaching employees, but the further removed we are from someone personally, the less applicable it becomes. How easy it is to withhold mercy under the pretense of not enabling someone.
By the time we meet most people, life has had its way with them. They behave in ways they have learned best help them physically and emotionally survive. It’s arrogant to assume we would fare better under similar circumstances, and more arrogant to think our petty disciplines will change them.
Should we hand cash to gambling addicts? No. Should we allow co-workers to abuse us? Nope. But when someone is hungry or hurting, we should transcend our grievances to feed and care for them. We can’t fix people – they need to initiate that themselves – but we are called to show mercy to the broken, for we ourselves are broken and beneficiaries of the mercy of God.
Jesus didn’t instruct us to parent everyone. He did instruct us to forgive and love. A crust of bread offered to a starving thief doesn’t condone thievery; it says we trust in something greater we hope to share. Whether he hears that is not up to us.
Comfort: You aren’t responsible for parenting the world.
Challenge: When you feel like someone needs to suffer consequences, ask yourself why.
Prayer: Merciful God, guide me as I seek the balance between mercy and justice.
Discussion: Mercy is a personal matter, but it can seem at odds with civil justice. Have you struggled with this tension? Or do you disagree with the premise?
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