[11th Sunday After Pentecost, 1Cor 9:2-12/Mat 18:23-35]
Today’s Gospel reading is a case study in human nature.
There’s an expression in some of the circles this priest/engineer works in: “intellectual gridlock.” The expression indicates a condition wherein all who are part of a group think similarly. This is not an indication of positive reinforcement. Rather, it points to one person expressing a faulty perspective, and then having others in the group (either via laziness or misplaced trust in the one voicing the opinion) adopt the faulty thinking.
Don’t tell me you haven’t seen this! The world around us is full of it, especially within our government.
So it is with today’s servant. The "groupthink" intellectual gridlock here could be compared with the belief that you can win the lottery. Statistics show your chance is 1 in 300 million. But everyone who plays thinks they'll win. Everyone doesn't!
The debt that today's servant owes to his master is no different from this "lottery-think". It is so insurmountable an amount that begging for “time” and “patience” of the one owed to is beyond unbelievable. No one in their right mind who is in the position of the master in this parable would ever conceive of such magnanimity.
But this is where our Lord moves us with His words. He attempts at every turn to show us how loving, how forgiving, how patient the Father is with us, His creatures.
The fact that no person would ever consider forgiving such a debt remains. But this master (who is the image of the Father) does so. He does it so easily that the Lord’s words indicate that there was not even a second thought about it. The servant issues a plea of repentance, and the master’s response is immediate and unbounded. He didn’t say, “I’ll forgive half.” He didn’t say, “I’ll give you another week.” Our Lord’s words are few but powerful. The master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave the debt.
Each year as we enter the Great Fast, those of us who are part of the Bulgarian Diocese greet one another with good wishes for the Fast. In Bulgarian, the expression shared is, “Prosteno prosti. Leki posti,” which translates to, “Forgiven—simple! Light is the fast!”
That “Forgiven—simple!” resonates in this parable!
But we’ve spoken only of the greatly indebted servant so far. He is for all purposes the focus of this parable, for there WAS sincerity in his plea for forgiveness.
But his sincerity had no depth, at least not depth sufficient for him to grasp the magnitude of the blessing the master had bestowed upon him such that he would share that same magnanimity with his brother servants. For the magnitude of the debt owed to him by his fellow servant was insignificant in comparison to what had been forgiven him by the master. Worse yet, his fellow servant’s plea was identical to his own. How could he not understand the relationship and “do unto others”? And yet, he showed himself to be intellectually locked into desire for the money, for the world, for material things. His newly granted forgiveness and freedom were recent events, but his behavior is as if they were long forgotten. He showed no concern for spiritual matters, nor for providing from one’s own bounty to another who is in need.
Be patient with me becomes just words, like those of a child caught in the act of doing wrong who is trying to avoid punishment. May we never utter words in this way!
The Lord is attempting to teach us to emulate not the servant, but the Master - to be without reservation or limit forgiving of the 'debts' of others. This is the sense of the word 'debts' within the Lord's Prayer, ....and forgive us our debts (trespassess) as we forgive our debtors.
Let us hold in our hearts that Bulgarian greeting, and mean it with our whole heart.