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24 OT A ~ "Too Large to Count" ~ Susan McGurgan


If we aren’t careful,

we can get a little lost

in the “math” of this story.

If we don’t watch it,

we might find ourselves crunching numbers

and calculating sums

instead of exploring the Kingdom.


This passage asks:

How many times do we forgive?

How big is our debt?

And,

What does it mean to live in mercy?


Do we forgive 7 times?

77 times?

Or is it,

as some translators note,

actually 70 x 7

which brings us to a grand total of 490?


And the King!

Our translation merely says,

the debt owed was a

“huge amount”

but the Greek says, “myriad of talents.”

Myriad meant 10,000,

and a talent

was a weight measure of precious metal,

in this case, silver.

Scholars love to speculate

how much money this might be

in modern currency.

They twist themselves into numerical pretzels

toting up

the price of silver in the ancient world,

multiplying how many troy ounces in a talent,

by how many whatevers

are contained in a myriad

and figuring out just how much

money

this servant owed his master.

A single talent may have been as much as

20 years wages for a common laborer.


But, no matter how you calculate the numbers,

or set up the spreadsheet,

the debt is staggering.

Billions.

Gazillions.


Enough money to pay

200,000 years of a day laborer’s salary.

Enough money

to take everyone in Cincinnati

to Disneyland.

Disneyland Paris.

Enough money

to buy your favorite hockey team

and then add on your second favorite--

heck, just buy the whole league!


However you translate the Greek

and add up the ledger,

Jesus is talking about an

extraordinary,

can’t-imagine-in-your-wildest-dreams

sum of money.

In fact, there is nothing

ordinary

about this passage at all—

neither in Peter’s question

or in Jesus’ story.

Both offer us a vision of God’s Kingdom

that is as unsettling

as it is excessive.


Yet, the numbers are a red herring.

As staggering as the sums might be,

this story is not about economics

it’s about relationships.

It’s not about math,

it’s about mercy.


In this passage,

Jesus is upending,

overturning,

transforming the ground rules

for how we interact with God

and each other.


We actually have a lot more in common

with the ancient Romans

than we realize.

Roman religion was practical,

contractual.

Their relationship with the gods and goddesses

of their pantheon was transactional.

It was based on the principle

that if “I give this to you,

you might give that to me.”

I will play by the rules of the game,

and in return,

Jupiter

or Vesta,

or Minerva

will allow me to move my marker

safely

a few more squares around the board.


Although we don’t like admitting it,

we’re pretty comfortable

with that arrangement, too.

God will forgive me

if I do “X.”

If I pray this way,

God will respond that way.

If we are honest,

the image of a sacred gum ball machine

is pretty soothing.

We like knowing

exactly

how much we must give,

or in this case,

how many times we must forgive

and still remain in God’s good graces.


“How often must I forgive?

As many as seven times?”


When Jesus replies,

“seventy-seven times”

he doesn’t mean literally the number between

seventy-six and seventy-eight,

he means,

“Peter! Listen up!

You are asking the wrong question!”


The issue is not

how often,

how much,

when, where, and who to forgive—

the issue is this:

If we follow Jesus,

forgiveness

is part of the landscape.

Forgiveness becomes

constant

in our lives and in our relationships.


In this parable of the King and the servant,

forgiveness is extravagant,

excessive,

without measure,

without limit--

This is how God forgives.

For us?

It's not optional.

It is not a choice.

It is not reserved for those times we feel

particularly magnanimous or kind.

It’s all day.

Every day.


But aren’t there unforgivable sins?

Betrayal.

Abuse.

Murder.

Crimes against children.


There are times

we must leave a relationship

or exit a situation

for our own protection

and the safety of those we love.

There are times we must protect the weak.

Walk away.

Run, even.


But forgiveness and legal liability

are different issues.

We can step outside of

dangerous situations and toxic relationships,

foster justice for victims

and accountability for criminals,

and at the same time

forgive the sin that triggered this action.


And this is hard.

It will be some of the hardest work we ever do.

It is easy to hold on to hatred.

Easy to demand retribution.

Easy to nurse anger

and fuel our pain.

It feels “righteous.”

It feels “just.”

It feels darn good.

At least at first.

And then,

that poison inevitably turns inward

and begins to destroy us.


I don’t pretend to have the answers

and I know from personal experience

that forgiveness is wrenching

and painful

and lonely.

It makes you look weak and foolish

in the eyes of the world.

It can even

make you question your own sanity.


But this I know—

when the disciples asked Jesus

to teach them to pray,

he taught them about forgiveness—

“For if you forgive others their trespasses,

your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”


When he hung on the cross

he used his dying breath

to teach Roman Centurions

and grieving disciples about forgiveness—

“Father forgive them,

for they know not what they do.”


And when Peter asked,

“How many times must we forgive?”

Jesus invited him into this story

in which forgiveness overflows.


Unlike many of his parables,

the point of this story

is clear and unmistakable.

It’s not the understanding that’s hard—

it’s the living out.

Because if we live long enough,

someone we love will hurt us.

Someone we trust will betray us.

We will make choices

that rupture friendships

and implode lives.


No matter what path we take,

we will eventually

walk in the shadows of old wounds

and carry the imprint of new scars.

There is no secret passageway,

no shortcut,

no magic hall pass

that allows us to avoid this pain.


The Good News is

those scars and wounds won’t define us.

Scars never

ever

get the last word.

The Good News is

forgiveness lies at the heart

of our relationship with God

and God’s forgiveness is

"myriad of talents."


That same forgiveness lies at the heart

of our relationship with the Church

and with each other.

7 times,

70 times,

70 x 7,

as many times as it takes,

whatever it takes,

wherever it takes us--

our response to God’s mercy

must overflow as well.


Our encounter with Christ

is an invitation to a new way

of seeing and being.

In this new life,

we don’t receive what we deserve,

we receive,

like the servant of the King in this parable,

a shockingly generous gift—

the forgiveness of our debt that cannot be

measured,

or calculated,

or entered into a ledger

because that sum,

like the abundance of God’s love,

is simply

too large to count.

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