We recently attended the funeral of a wonderful man, who for the few years I knew him, was a great encourager of all the players on his nephews' school sports teams. He was full of joy, calling each athlete out by name, quick with compliments to each player after the game. Our son was one of the recipients of his verbose cheering. The players on the field, and fans on the opposite side of the field could hear him calling out from the home side of the stadium. The stands were always a bit more lively when this man was in attendance. I knew he belonged to Christ as our family was in attendance and loudly cheered for him the day leaped into the baptismal to demonstrate his faith in our Savior. During the eulogy, his family shared of memories that were not so joyful, a vastly different man, one who had been troubled with addictions, estranged from his wife and child because of poor choices during his youth. Through the faithful, genuine love of his siblings and parents, men in our church and believers sitting next to him in the bleachers, this may submitted his life to Christ, and was made new. He was so grateful for grace, he radiated Christ to the world around him.
“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. Luke 7:41-43 NIV
Two servants, both with debts too big to pay. Unskilled laborers only making a denarius a day, perhaps working in the fields or on a building project. Since the denarii equated about fifteen cents in today's US dollars, it was nearly impossible to save any amount to pay back the money owed while trying to feed a family at the same time. To owe 500 hundred denarii, meant a person would have to save everything for about one and a half years, working six days a week. Impossible! Similarly, although a tenth the debt of the first servant, the second owed fifty denarii which was still an unattainable loan to repay.
A huge debt, financial or otherwise, can be stifling. Jesus was compassionate for the people suffering under the burdensome taxes of the Roman empire, struggling to have just enough, while continually facing the reality of imprisonment or indentured servitude when they could not fulfill their obligations. Today we cannot imagine having to decide whether to sell a family member into slavery or face imprisonment to include regular torture, but this was too often the case for many of the lower social bracket during New Testament life under Roman rule. Take a minute and consider... would you face prison in a dark hole until your family could scrape enough money to pay for your release while your family were required to provide for your food and personal needs without your income? Your second option would be to indenture a member of your family as a slave in order to have your debt forgiven? I cannot imagine...
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." John 8:31-36 NIV
Consider our sin...who has a greater appreciation of Christ's complete redemption? A "good" person who has done their best to be nice and help their neighbor? OR a repentant sinner who has lived their life placing their own desires above the needs of others, ruining their life and sacrificing relationships?
Jesus taught His disciples with parables because these spiritual allegories allowed His intended message to be more deeply absorbed when the plot is personally applicable. Someone who is so far in debt, fiscally or spiritually, so deep in the hole that there is no conceivable way out, they are the one who may more fully appreciate the salvation of the Messiah. Remember the story of the Lost Son?
After he had spent everything... He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. “When he came to his senses... he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. Luke 15:14-20 NIV
The Prodigal's father did not begrudgingly let him back into the house, or send him out to sleep in the barn. NO! He was watching, waiting, longing for the sight of his son on the horizon, straining to see a glimpse of the boy he adored, waiting, then when he was "still a long way off," the father RAN to him. Our God does not hold our sins against us. He is constantly knocking at the door of our hearts, wooing us by name to come home.
When you stand in church and witness a worshiper weeping in praise or someone who is completely filled with great joy in every circumstance, you may be witnessing a child of the King whose wounds are fresh and deep, hard pressed on every side, confined under tremendous burdens. You may also be in the presence of someone remembering wounds that have been healed or one who knows the freedom provided by the Savior. How can they do anything less than run with abandon joy? Welcome home, sweet uncle, brother, son and friend.
Holy Father, Abba, gracious and loving to all Your children, patient with us, not wanting any of us to parish. Help us to realize, even partially, the huge debt You paid so we might be called children of the King Most High. May you touch our hearts so we may celebrate and be glad with brothers and sisters who repent and return to You for we were all dead in our transgressions, but You have made us alive; we were lost but we have been found. (Luke 15:32 NIV) May our joy be complete, and may we live our life in abandon for You! Amen