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There is a question that is being asked more and more around our house these days. It is usually asked by Bev and always directed at me. It sounds something like this: "Did you hear what I just said?" Sadly, my response is usually something like this: "Uh, what was that?"

There is a character in one of Jesus' parables who I think was hard of hearing. Maybe he was slow of mind. Or both. Either way, he missed the point.

In Matthew 18, Jesus told the story that we call the parable of the unmerciful servant. It seems that this servant somehow got himself into debt to the tune of "millions of dollars". We ought not to concern ourselves with the precise nature of that amount or how this servant could possibly have accrued such a debt. Those details are not germane to the story. The point Jesus is making is that this servant is in an impossible situation.

Yet, from somewhere, this servant got the idea that, given time, he could repay these "millions of dollars".  Now, either he wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer or he thought his master was stupid! So he begged his master to give him an extension of time and he promised to pay back everything he owed.

That anyone could make such a promise or commitment (and believe it!) leaves me gob-smacked! However, before we dismiss this man as something of a simpleton or a very smart operator, let's acknowledge that we, too, have incurred a debt impossible to pay. I'm thinking, of course, in the spiritual realm. Our sin incurred a debt with God that was impossible for us to pay.

So the servant asked for an extension of time. He promised that he would pay back the whole lot.  There are a lot of people in our world (and in our Churches?) who, when confronted with their sin would say (in begging mode):

But the man fell down before the king and begged him, 'Oh, sir, be patient with me, and I will pay it all. ('Matthew 18/26).

There is no suggestion about how he will accomplish this miracle of repayment. Perhaps he hoped to come into some kind of inheritance? What we do know is that the deal he put to his master left him in a very tenuous situation.

However, this man's master was more magnanimous than he might have expected in the circumstances.

Then the king was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.  (v.27)

This is a most amazing description of the extent to which the love and mercy of God will go. The master is moved with pity and compassion. The impossible debt is cancelled. He doesn't discount it. He doesn't grant that extension of time. He cancels the debt! He tears it up! It is no more! The servant goes out financially liberated!

This is where I think the servant missed it. Just like I often don't hear what my wife says, I don't think he heard what the master said. Yes, he missed it entirely. The reason why I think he didn't hear this wonderfully liberating announcement is because of what happened next.

Let me speculate for a moment or two. My anticipation is that, having heard, understood and believed that the master had cancelled his incredible debt, the servant would have gone out to celebrate his "good fortune" (to make an understatement).

His liberated status would have been as unexpected as winning the monster lottery. But among the first people he meets is a fellow servant who owes him, say, twenty dollars. Whatever be the equivalent, it was a very small debt.

I think that the first servant sees in his colleague as a means whereby he can begin calling in those amounts owed to him by others. Why? So he can begin repaying his master. Why? Because he didn't hear what his master said: "Your debt is cancelled!!"

The context of the parable is, of course, forgiveness. Peter wants to know how often he should forgive the brother that wrongs him. (Matthew 18/21-35). But for now, I am confronted with my hearing problem. Have I heard the Lord God say to me (in effect), "Did you hear what I said? Your debt is paid in full by my Son's death and resurrection. Did you hear me? The debt is no longer. You don't have to find ways to pay the debt. It's gone forever!!"

I think there are times when my behaviour suggests that I haven't heard that Word of the Lord. The degree of my willingness to forgive those who wrong me is a sure indicator as to whether or not I have heard and believed. More about this next time

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