What do we owe?

11 September 2011
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 19A (RCL)
Exodus 14:19-31
Psalm 114
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 18:21-35

Preaching on this Sunday is complicated by the fact that it is the tenth anniversary of 9/11. What do we make of all that has transpired since that date?

It is surprising how many times I have read the story of the crossing of the Red Sea, and never really paid attention to the fate of the Egyptians in the story. They have always served as sort of cardboard figures — the faceless enemies of God’s people, who have to be gotten out of the way for the fulfillment of God’s plan. When Mark narrates the story of the man with the Legion of demons, he uses the story of Pharaoh’s army in a humorous way. The Legion of demons (a Legion, of course, was a unit of the Roman Army) plunged into the sea (just like Pharaoh’s army) as a herd of pigs! The reader gets the joke.

I suppose the story works fine when God’s people are an enslaved people, who dream of overthrowing the Empire that enslaves them. But what do we do with this, when we see ourselves as God’s people, and we are the Empire? We are only too eager to see our enemies destroyed, but where would we find God in this? Marianne Faithfull has a new album out called, “Horses and High Heels.” She sings “That’s how every empire falls” by R. B. Morris. The last half of the last verse runs, “If terror comes without warning, There must be something we don’t see. What fire begets this fire? Like torches thrown into the straw. If no one asks, then no one answers. That’s how every empire falls.”

I think the parable in Matthew can help us out of our dilemma. Remember, Jesus tells this parable in answer to Peter’s question, “How often should I forgive?” The slave of the king owes ten thousand talents. King Herod had an annual income of about 100 talents. So this is a hundred years of Herod’s income. How does a slave get that far into debt. If the king sells him and his family, he’d recoup only a tiny portion of that debt. So, he forgives the debt. What would be the point?

And then this fellow goes out a strangles a fellow slave for 100 denarii — a hundred day’s wages. We forget how much God has given us, and become focused on the tiny debts others owe us. What would happen if we started giving away what God has given us (remember the story in Luke when the dishonest steward gives away his master’s debts?). Saudi Arabia buys off potential terrorists. They see folks going into the radical schools, and starting into terrorist activities, and rather than imprison them, they send them to school, and then give them tremendous jobs earning a lot of money. Guess what? None of them become terrorists. They have useful jobs and earn good money. The sense of frustration and isolation that drive terrorism are gone.

Community is bound together by the little debts we build up to each other. You invite me to dinner, and I help you move some furniture. If you give me something for free, with no expectation even of gratitude in return, then I have nothing to offer into the relationship — I am useless and isolated. Perfect recipe for me to begin to sabotage community. How do we draw people into meaningful relationships? Certainly not be concentrating on what others owe us, but what we owe God.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *