How do you earn a living?
Interesting q. Not because of the answers, the q itself . . .
‘Earn a living’ – Why do we use such language?
Have you bought into the latest thinking in this area?
How do you spend your life . . .
The criminal must ‘pay their debt to society . . .’ I’ll return to debt shortly
Arguments ‘the bottom line is . . .’ I could go on almost ad infinitum. The language of Money is woven through our way of being . . . We work, to get money, to buy bread, to live . . . Money and Life woven together, which is a problem for us
Of course one might be very otherworldly about money
God will provide! Why is the church always talking about money, yet the next moment turn round and say ‘but you owe me an apology . . .’ This reveals in a sense that money is more than cash – it is . . . well some kind of Spiritual force – or Mammon
The mammon one way or another radically infects our language and thus our lives and indeed our faith . . .
And so it is with the issue of forgiveness – as anyone who knows presbyterianism will attest – we ask God to forgive us our debts . . . (but woe betide any customer of mine who doesn’t pay his bills . . .)
Which is odd, when you think about it for a couple of reasons.
Firstly because we live in a world where it is assumed that, you must pay your debts. I owe, I owe, its off to work I go . . .
Debt and the money system are a prison and an utterly unforgiving one – is that LIFE?
Secondly the language of debt in the prayer, takes it for granted that we can ‘owe’ God . And whether we use that language or not, the sense of ‘being in Gods debt or that of another overshadows our understanding of forgiveness . . .
Yet owing suggests a deficit in God . . . By our sinning he has lent us something and thus is diminished – so it is rooted in a wrong idea about God. For God is overflowing abundance – Life in all its fullness . . . yet we won’t have it
This approach in some respects has really kicked into gear since the Protestant reformation, although it was very alive in the church since the late middle ages – ‘As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs’ The Sale of indulgences, buying time off paying what you owed God – was one of the rampant abuses the reformers rightly railed against but unwittingly, as the man who kicked a demon out of his house found, it only made matters worse let the spirit of Mammon loose without retsraint – The Protestant work ethic and consumer capitalism are happy bedfellows . . . that anyone should get – Something for nothing . . . the underserving . . .
And it infected our language of faith – ‘There was no other good enough to pay the price for sin . . .’ And I as was taught regarding confession – you need to ‘keep short accounts with God . . .’
What is Peter doing in his approach to Jesus but the work of accounting.
Jesus has already told his disciples that as servants of God, their work is to seek and save the lost, to renew connection. To reconnect them to the ever flowing stream of the Life of God – To seek out the brother who sinned against you, not that your honour might be satisfied, not that they owed you, but because this is what God does – in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us
But Peter is still counting – Peter lives in the small minded world of Mammon – a world with an unforgiving bottom line – world of scarcity – there’s only so much forgiveness to go around. A world in which Life runs out . . . So you wouldn’t want to waste it.
This is a world in which secretly we don’t want to forgive, as if we will thereby lose something . . . yet Peter will begrudgingly push himself if Jesus requires it – How much do you require of me Jesus?!
He guesses that Jesus might go further than the rabbis who counselled that your forgave three times only, but ‘Jesus is better’, but ‘We know the story so the Jesus story is the same’, . . .of the same mould . . . so 7 times – after all that is perfection, but Jesus isn’t interested in ‘a better version of the world’, he has something New to say, or rather something original . . from the Origin of Creation, from the heart, from the heart of God
Jesus’ teaching is from the origin . . . from the source of the river of LIfe
And his shocking words expose the world for what it is – ruled by accounting, and limitation, harsh limitation, begrudging forgivness merely to keep the rules.
This parable of Jesus is often taught like this –
A tale of two debts. One owed by the first servant, one owed to the first servant. The debt owed by the first servant is 60,000 times greater than what he is owed. So . . . we owe God an unpayable debt . . . except that is something we have made up, assuming that the world of debt is normative.
Nowhere in scripture are we told we owe God, after all, if God is your father, does your parent lend you their life, their house, do they bill you for your sheer existence?? The language of infinite debt is the infection of the faith by those who do not know God – who understand faith in terms set by the money system – serving Mammon still – and so using the language of accounting in the world of faith
And if your brother really IS your brother . . . The words of Jesus are Shocking to our world . . . forgive 7×70 times – forgive and forgive and forgive . . . ad infinitum – If money is our picture of life, then it is limited, But if God is our picture of life, then . . . boundless forgiveness is the Reality
Note that the master has pity on the slave . . . He doesn’t see the debt, he sees the person – a person in trouble. He doesn’t see someone who has sinned against him, he sees someone who has cut themselves off from life and is in trouble . . . he loves the servant. He pities him . . . and he forgives him, he connects his Life to that of his servant . . .
But the first slave goes out and although he has not been treated according to the harsh unforgiving money system – goes and implements the harsh unforgiving money system . . . he has been given Life, but chooses limitation and death . . .
He only sees the debt . . . he doesn’t see the person. He is blinded by what is owed – by the offence, and has no pity . . .
This is not a story about the debt system – it is a story about Love, or not . . .
It is about Life – or death . . . After all, the wages of sin is death . . . the Gift of God is eternal Life
In our world Mammon – holds the power of life and death, and its doctrines infect everyday life, to the last cent . . . which is why we tend to see this parable in terms of the vast amount of money and the small amount of money, and miss the pity, the love. Why would the fellow slaves be shocked by the treatment of their fellow? Because they are servants of their master – and live a life according to love. If they lived according to money they wouldn’t be shocked – their is no sense that they know what happened between the master and servant – it is ‘of the heart’s inner room . . .
Forgiveness from the heart is a different life. Life that is a never ending stream – a river.
From the heart says Jesus – as he says in John’s gospel, out of the heart of the one who believes will flow rivers, rivers of living water. Wells run dry, but rivers . . . they are a flow of life throughout scripture.
It really is your money or your life . . .
You can serve God, and live a life of love, or live under the system of Mammon, which has a bottom line – Death . . .