Today our lord confronts us with the radical price of forgiveness. To show just the tip of the iceberg of the cost of forgiveness, Jesus tells a Parable about a king settling accounts. A servant is brought to him who owes 10,000 talents. A talent is the equivalent of one month’s wages, so the servant owes 10,000 months’ worth of wages, or, 833 1/3 years. To put this in American terms, the average American’s household income for a year is $51,939. So, this servant owes approximately $42,825,786.90! How could someone incur that much debt?! A house only costs about three years’ wages! The servant lived wastefully, extravagantly, and selfishly, topped off with inexcusable stupidity. Though he begs for more time, he could never repay this kind of debt. Assuming he could repay at the same rate we pay off a mortgage, it would take him just shy of 50,000 years to repay his debt. In other words, this debt is impossible to repay. So the king, in his undeserved, lavish mercy, forgives the debt. He doesn’t give time, he doesn’t even demand a token payment! He wipes the slate clean and acts as if that debt had never been incurred.
That wondrous word of mercy still ringing in his ears, the servant leaves the king. But has his heart been changed? His fellow servant is proof that, no, it hasn’t. He owes that wasteful coworker 100 denarii. A denarius is the equivalent of a day’s wages, so he owes 100 days, or, just over three months’ wages. In our money, he owes approximately $14,230. This is the cost of a good used car, so let’s say he can safely repay that kind of debt in 4 or 5 years. The one who just had ten thousand times that forgiven refuses to be merciful! His fellow servant doesn’t ask for the forgiveness of the debt or anything extravagant. He simply asks for time. And how does his fellow servant respond? He takes him by the neck, strangles him, and demands that he be thrown into prison until the debt can be repaid. But how can one earn money while imprisoned? They can’t! So the unmerciful servant demands that the other man’s family cough up the bail, likely having to commit shameful acts to earn the money demanded to free their husband and father from jail.
How can someone forgiven such a great amount respond in such a harsh and unforgiving way to someone who, by comparison, owes so little? He was not converted by the merciful action of the king. He refused to acknowledge that his debt was real. He had no guilty conscience and lived his life as if he owed nothing to anyone. He saw himself as the king and everyone else as being subservient to him.
We are just as indebted to our King, to God, who has created us from nothing and gives us everything to sustain this body and life. Just like the unmerciful servant, we use our resources frivolously. We spend our money on what does not satisfy and ignore the poor among us. We spend our time and give our attention to those who will flatter us or praise us publicly instead of with our families. We walk around puffed up as if we owe nothing to anyone, as if we are each our own self-made success. And this even extends to our confession of sin. We can act as falsely accused sinners, saying that we are poor, miserable sinners, but not meaning the confession, never feeling any guilt, never intending to change our life and conduct.
Nothing we can do can repay the debt we owe to God. Our sin costs far more than 833 1/3 years’ wages. Our sin costs our very life. The only repayment adequate for our sin is temporal and eternal death.
But your heavenly Father, the true King, has had mercy on you! He forgives you all your debt. He doesn’t give you time and hold you to a repayment schedule. He gives you forgiveness, peace, life, and salvation. The heavenly King, moved by grace and mercy, send Jesus Christ to take on your flesh and all your debt. He came to bear all your sin. Having no debt of His own, the debt of all the world was etched into His flesh with whips, thorns, and nails. His Blood flowed and covered the ledger of what you owed to God, and now God sees a slate wiped clean by the holy, innocent Blood of His Son. Though you should pay for all your debts here in time and there in eternity, you will suffer none of it. The Son has forgiven all your debt and the certificate of payment is given to you by the waters of Holy Baptism, by the Blood of Jesus’ sacrifice in the Supper, by the Word of Absolution, and through the preaching of His holy Word.
So Jesus gives you His grace and mercy and forgiveness in abundance so that you learn how to forgive. By His forgiveness you are righteous before God, acceptable to Him. And having been filled with His righteousness, God’s mercy overflows in you. The same forgiveness you have been given you now freely extend to others and by this fulfill God’s command.
You are forgiven, not just seventy times seven, but forever. Seven and ten are Biblical numbers of fullness and completion. Together, they mean that you are forgiven forever, without measure, or cost, or strings, or demands. As impossible and ridiculous as your debt before God might seem, He cancels it. He sacrificed His Son and raised him From the dead. Because of Him, because of His perfect life in your place, there is no end to the forgiveness given to you. No matter how frivolous, wasteful, extravagant, or wasteful your sin may be, it is all forgiven. And it is forgiven far more than 490 times. As long as you live, He continues to extend what He has won for you on the cross. Your forgiveness is paid for once and for all, but given again and again, as long as you need it, as long as you confess your sin, as long as His Word endures, which is to say, forever. He forgives and loves—then, now, and into eternity. By His Word, by His Body and Blood, your sins, your debt, your trespasses all are forgiven, forgotten, no more. They are all gone. Rejoice in Christ your Savior, because you are free.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.