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IHS Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost A.D. 2019 Ave Maria!


Today's Gospel speaks of debt and forgiveness of debt.[1] The idea that a man might be sold, along with his family, to make good on a debt may seem extreme to modern ears, but we ought to consider that even in our times, the inability to pay off a debt can be catastrophic! People do literally lose their automobiles and even their homes if they fall behind in debt payments. They probably won't take your children, but a salary garnishment might make it difficult to feed and clothe them.

Prudent people will try to avoid getting into unnecessary or unreasonable debt. But let us distinguish one form of debt from another. In our society it is possible to borrow in order to invest in something that will produce income. Often, the “something” is a property that serves as collateral for the loan—if you fail to pay off the loan, the lender may take the property for his own use. This is the way modern society works, and it would be unwise to have laws against such borrowing and lending—loosing the ability to make prudent investments would quite likely cause great harm to the economy.

There is a difference between productive and frivolous borrowing. When investing, it is incumbent on the borrower to make every effort to insure that the investment is likely to be successful. The lender might well do the same! (Unless he is actually looking for an opportunity to practice charity—but even then, bad debts often ruin friendships.) No one should borrow or loan for frivolous purposes—vacations, fancy cars, elaborate food and drinks, are best gone without if the cannot be paid out of current income or assets.

“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” is a cognate translation of the Lord's prayer, (dimítte nobis débita nostra, sicut et nos dimíttimus debitóribus nostris....) and very good advice.[2] Wherever possible, a lender should consider the impact that demanding payment on a loan will have. It is certainly better to extend the term of a loan than to bring the borrower to ruination! Certainly, no Christian wants to be responsible for the destruction of another's soul—and that is actually something that can come from financial ruination.

As with all of the parables in the Gospels, there is a spiritual aspect to consider. Ten thousand talents would be millions of dollars in today's money. Hebrew stories often exaggerate to make a point, and it seems unlikely that the king would have lent such an enormous amount to his servant—a man whom he knew could never repay such a gigantic sum. Instead we might consider the ten thousand talents to be the infinite value of a human soul—something we should always be concerned about losing! Our souls are infinitely valuable, for they represent forever in heaven, enjoying the company of Almighty God, or on the other hand, they may represent forever in hell if we die estranged from Almighty God.

The king in the parable is like Almighty God, and even though we have done nothing to deserve our salvation, He is merciful enough to forgive all of the sins that have wasted our treasure in heaven. God gives His graces freely so that we poor sinners can make amends, and pay off the debt we have accumulated over many years of careless living.

God is infinitely merciful and willing to forgive us our trespasses, but with one very important reservation. He is willing to forgive us only insofar as we are willing to forgive others who offend us.

This forgiveness of others extends far beyond forgiveness of monetary debts. We may not always be in a position to forgive a debt of money owed to us—indeed, that is a pretty good reason for rarely lending (or borrowing) money. The “trespasses” of the Lord’s prayer are generally emotional rather than monetary. I am not to remain angry because someone snubs me … not because someone is rude or loudmouthed … not because someone fails to invite me to their party or fails to attend mine … not because someone’s political or religious ideas differ from mine … not because someone accidentally hurts me or damages my property. Even if I never have to forgive a monetary debt, I must be quick to forgive every offense against me.

Our Lord has forgiven us so much, just as the King in the parable has forgiven his servant a million dollar debt. Our Lord is very forgiving, but we don’t want to cause anyone to complain to Him about us, over our lack of forgiveness—be sure to be able to pray honestly that “we forgive those who trespass against us.”


[1] Gospel: Matthew xviii: 23-35

[2] Matthew vi:12

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