In the Gospel from today’s Mass (Matt 18:21-35), Jesus ventures into financial matters to teach about forgiveness and mercy:

[21] Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” [22] Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. [23] “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. [24] When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents;  [25] and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.  [26] So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, `Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’  [27] And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.  [28] But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, `Pay what you owe.’  [29] So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, `Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’  [30] He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt.  [31] When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.  [32] Then his lord summoned him and said to him, `You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me;  [33] and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’  [34] And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt.  [35] So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Jesus offers stern advice in the form of a parable to teach about mercy.  Consider:

  • Jesus, always in tune with what people understand, chooses to teach with a parable that uses financial imagery to make His point.  Christ is the Divine Orator.
  • Jesus responds to Peter’s question about how often to forgive by saying, “seventy times seven.”  This means boundless mercy.  Of note, Jesus demonstrates His perfect knowledge of the Old Testament (of course, He wrote it), by contrasting Lamech’s boundless vengeance that he plans to pour out “seventy times seven” (Gen 4:24).
  • The evil servant owes ten thousand talents:  this is the equivalent of about $9 billion dollars today.
  • Clearly, the evil servant is bankrupt, to an impossible degree; and yet, the King not only does not punish the servant, but forgives him the debt.
  • In contrast, the evil servant puts a fellow servant into prison for a 100 denarii; about $11,000 in today’s dollars; this is a lot, but could be reasonably expected to be paid back.
  • When the King hears this, he has the evil servant put into prison until he can repay his debt; which, given the amount, he will need be able to do.

Jesus instructs us to be merciful and to forgive in an unbound less way.

We should heed his advice, for we all are bankrupt; we owe God a debt we can never repay, for He has given us life and we sin continuously.