instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Biased news

The Parable of the Wicked Servant presents a view of Jesus' heavenly Father that doesn't sit well with today's universalistic outlook. Jesus concludes the parable, and adds a moral:
"Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt.

"So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart."
The NAB adds this helpful note:
Since the debt is so great as to be unpayable, the punishment will be endless.
But this story of God handing over a soul to eternal torment is really -- both actually and extremely -- good news!

We are all debtors to God who owe Him a debt we have no way of paying back. Unlike temporal debt, though, it isn't the magnitude of the debt that makes it "so great as to be unpayable." If the debt were merely a hundred million billion trillion times more than we could pay, then once we paid all we could a hundred million billion trillion times, we'd be debt free.

Rather, it's the kind of debt, the disobedience of a creature towards its Creator, that makes it unpayable. Not only can we creatures not pay God back "in full," as the wicked servant promises his king, we can't pay back any of it; there's no currency (or good or service) good for debts of creaturely disobedience.

But see what the parable says:
Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.
There's only one way we can get out of debt: if God forgives us. Guess what: God forgives us.


Granted, we have to ask Him to forgive us, and we have to mean it, but those are minor details before the great truth that God forgives us.

If this parable is such good news, why does it end with the servant being handed over to the torturers? I suppose because of the impiety of the question which led to Jesus telling the parable. For a disciple of the Son of God to limit himself to forgiving seven times is to profess that God's own forgiveness is finite. Jesus showed Peter what his concept of limited forgiveness looks like when you're playing for keeps.