At the heart of our relationship with God is the knowledge that we are loved and forgiven. What we sometimes fail to appreciate is how great that forgiveness is. Minimising our faults is a pretty basic human characteristic. Most of us start it in childhood – and we carry on. What I did wasn’t really that bad, and so on. It’s not very attractive, and it also makes it all too easy to carry on to somewhere worse, because we tend not to be so good at minimising the sins of others. As a result, we tend to regard the failings of others with a much less charitable eye than our own.
Jesus was addressing this in his famous call to “take a plank out of our own eye before looking for specks in others”. The parable of the man who owed 10,000 talents is giving us that same message. Neither of these passages is calling us to think of our own sins as worse that anyone else’s however. Rather they are to teach us just how profound God’s mercy is.
The sum of 10,000 talents was, in Jesus’ day, an insane amount. The rough equivalent today, in terms of an average day’s wages, is several billion dollars. When the man says “give me time and I will repay you”, he is speaking nonsense. He would never be able to pay the sum, no matter what he did, and yet he is freely forgiven. In the same way the Lord’s gift of sharing in the divine life, of being as St John teaches us, “like Him for we shall see Him as He really is”, is far beyond our ability to pay. And yet it is freely given to us.
Free gift though it is, it also calls us to respond. Not in repayment, which is beyond our capacity, but in giving to others, which each of us can do. It is why we say in the Our Father, forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
It is worth noting that this task isn’t as simple as it looks. In contrast to 10,000 talents, 100 denarii seems very little. And it is. But in Jesus’ day, one denarius was the standard days wage for a working man. Imagine the sum of one hundred days work at the minimum wage – about four months’ pay, when you include weekends. If someone owed you that much – you would want it back too. You would get pretty grumpy, unless you recalled how much you owed.
This teaching isn’t about “not sweating the little things”, but rather a reminder that even the bigger things – those things we find hardest to forgive – need to be seen in the light of what God has given us, and forgiven in us. It is a real challenge in other words, but one that Our Lord makes clear we have to embrace.
Fr Chris Denham