Every now and then, the NAB translation of the Scriptures we use at Mass combined with our modern culture may leave us with less clarity than the author intended. I’m no Greek scholar, but one of my favorite teachers says that according to the Greek original, the man in today’s gospel story owes the king not just “a huge amount” but 10,000 talents. A talent in the time of Jesus was the largest measure of money in use. And 10,000 wasn’t just any old number; 10,000 was the highest number used in counting. This man owes, then, the largest amount that could be conceived. On the opposite side of the scale to the talent was the denarius, which was the unit for measuring the daily wage. 10,000 talents equals 100,000,000 denari. The man who owes a “much smaller amount” owes, in the original language, 100 denari, or 100 days wages, while the man who is owed this himself owes 100 million days wages! Get the point? Jesus is telling us that the two debts cannot possibly compare. He’s telling us that the man who owed “a huge amount” in fact owed a debt that was literally beyond his ability to pay. So do you. So do I.
This may seem like an unpleasant place to dwell, but it’s a fact that the first reality we need to confront when considering the beauty of mercy is our own desperate need for it. We need to think about sin. Let us each pause for a moment to silently name just one sin that we tend to commit habitually. A selfishness. A way of thinking. A bit of dark glamour, perhaps.
Alongside this recollection of our own sin today, how easy – how natural – it is for us to slide in the excuses, right? Yes, I gossip, but it’s how I fit in at work. Sure, I drive too fast and cut people off, but I’m reallllly busy. I DO treasure images of others’ bodies in my mind, but it helps me stay faithful to my spouse in real life. And so on. We – most of us – can be very quick to forgive ourselves, especially for what we might consider to be the little things. We make excuses. After all, WE understand the backstory. We alone (we can think) KNOW the wounds that cause these reactive behaviors. We know the circumstances.
Part of our challenge as Christians is to resolve to “love our neighbors as ourselves” – to become people who can habitually assume that others’ faults and mistakes and sins have REASONS, and that we (without ever having to know what the reasons are) can habitually forgive them – as we so often do for ourselves. It’s not easy, but it is necessary.
St. Luke’s account of the crucifixion includes a small verse which gives an incredibly, cosmically HUGE portrait of God’s Divine Mercy. In chapter 23, verse 34, we learn that from the cross – tortured, betrayed, abandoned, and carrying the weight of my sin and yours — Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
What do we hear in those words? I hear that together with the crucified and risen Christ, we are children of the Father – the One who sees every hurt, who knows every reason, who lovingly understands the true source of every sin we commit – even if the source is as far away as Eden, or buried as deep as our own shame. The Father who, even in the agony of allowing His precious Son’s torture, betrayal, and wrenching division from His own identity as THE LIFE, loves you and me enough to hear the Advocate’s cry coming through THE WORD – a cry for forgiveness and cry of love so real, so connected, so relational, so passionate – that it makes an excuse for us, though it would seem to anyone else that we are unforgivable. But we are not. Because we have a good, GOOD Father – kind, merciful, and rich in compassion. He loves you, and me, and those who hurt us. Let us rejoice and be glad.