hen we are young, the world around us is alive with possibility. We dream the dreams of youth, of becoming astronauts, or doctors, or explorers, or presidents, or as a child once told my best friend, of becoming a lion when he grew up. As we grow older, something settles on us and our dreams begin to circle ever lower. The world of possibility grows tighter around us until one day what is and what is possible become one and the same, and we find ourselves unable to imagine anything other than the life that we have.
Now, to be clear, what I am talking about is different than finding contentment with the choices and decisions we have made, of finding purpose and meaning in our life. What I am talking about is the calcification of our futures by a great weight that binds us to our past. And more often than not, that weight is debt.
Debt changes the way that we see the world, even so-called good debt. Matt and I have a mortgage and a healthy amount of student loan debt. It is not insurmountable or unmanageable, but its weight is real. It anchors us to the way things are. The thought of picking up and moving across the country to pursue a new ministry seems more of a hurdle than it once did. Even having conversations in the wider Episcopal Church in Connecticut about a possible future where clergy are no longer paid, but serve voluntarily while finding pay in the secular word seems nearly impossible to wrap our head around. More than that, it feels mildly terrifying.
It is easy to imagine how adding some credit card debt or medical debt from an unexpected illness would further change what is possible for us. It is easy to imagine how our world could shrink around us until we are unable to dream even of the next day.
It is hard to imagine, though, the immensity of the debt that weighed down the servant in Jesus’ parable. Partly this is because a talent is not a unit of measure we use anymore. Partly it is because the wealth it represents Is astronomical. So, let’s break it down.
A talent of silver represented about 130lbs of silver. This is a lot! Imagine silver jewelry or other pieces of silver you may own, and then imagine 130lbs of it. Then imagine multiplying that by ten thousand. Even for us and the relatively high wages we enjoy, compared to a first century servant, it is a lot of money.
For our servant, it was a value that stretches the mind. If he devoted every last penny of his income to repaying this debt for a whole year, and then another year after that, and another year after that, and if he continued in this way for fifteen thousand years, he would have begun to make a dent in the debt he owed. And only if he continued like this for one hundred fifty thousand years would he finally be free of it.
It was a debt so big that all possibility ceased to exist for the servant. His world had constricted so tightly that for him nothing existed but his debt. He was his debt. His debt was him. Nothing else was possible.
The enormity of the forgiveness offered him by the lord was far more than simply saying to this servant that he no longer needed to repay this impossible debt. In cutting him free of the anchor that locked him permanently to his life as it was, the lord gave the servant nothing less than a new future. Like becoming young again, the servant for the first time in so long looked out at a world alive with possibility. Bound no more to the past, the servant was stepping out into a new life.
If you were touched with a grace such as this, what would be the first thing you would do? If it were me, I would rush home and call together my family and friends to celebrate the great treasure I had received. And when the party was finally complete, I would sleep deeply and dream. I would dream of all that was now possible. I would dream of the future that had been opened for me. When I finally woke from my slumber, I would step out at once into that future, determined not to let it pass me by.
That’s what I would do. It is not what the servant did.
His world had changed around him, but he was not changed. His life had become filled with grace, but he did not let that grace touch him. He went out, his debt forgiven, and found a fellow servant who owed him money. It was no small amount, worth a little over three months of wages. But when the man could not repay it, the servant had him thrown in jail.
Set free of his anchor and unbound from the way things had been before, the servant nevertheless chose to remain bound, to remain captive, to his impossible debt.
“How many times must we forgive one who has sinned against us?” the disciples ask of Jesus. It is a question that betrays their basic misunderstanding, a question that betrays our fundamental misunderstanding, of the nature of forgiveness. We approach it like a calculus, we treat it like a cost-benefit analysis. At what point does the size of another person’s debt become so great that there is no hope for a different future? At what point does the weight of their sign against us become so great that we are better off cutting them off from us and casting them out of our lives and out of our community?
We, like the disciples, are constantly looking for the inflection point, beyond which forgiveness is no longer worth it. Jesus turns the question on its head and tells us that this is precisely the point where forgiveness is needed most.
The point where our debt becomes so great that there is no possibility for anything different is the point that forgiveness becomes the only possibility for a new future and new life. It is for this reason that God forgives us. It is not because we are worthy, for we are not. Nor is it that we could ever possibly earn our forgiveness, for like the servant, our debt is so large that it staggers the mind.
Rather, it is because we worship the Living God, not the God of the dead, that we are forgiven. God gives us the unbelievable, un-earnable grace because God is the God of what is and what can yet be.
The good news of the Gospel this morning is that God breaks us free from that which has held us captive for so long. God gives us new possibilities, new futures, new life. It is the good news that the way things have been, and the way things are now, have no power over what can be or what will be, because God creates new possibilities, new stories, and new life.
How many times must we forgive? My friends, Christ has changed everything, why would we refuse to let it change our lives? God has given us a new life, so why would we choose to be shackled to death?
God has poured out grace upon grace on us. Let it touch our lives and so transform us that we begin to see the world as God does. Let us offer forgiveness to those who sin against us, not seven times, not seventy-seven times, but always and every time, because we are a people anchored not to what has come before, but to the promise and the hopes of what God is creating. My friends, let us put our faith in new life, not in that which is death giving, and let us invite others into that same new creation, for we are a people of the resurrection.
Preached by Adam Yates