Summary: Debt can be a good thing, spiritually; we owe debts to those who have shaped us, both negatively and positively, and pay that back by sharing in mutual respect and by offering the good news to a generation yet to come.
How do you feel about debt? Do you like debt? Do you take pleasure in interest payments?
How many of you say, “Oh, Mr. Greenspan, please don’t lower the interest rate again. I want to pay more. I love debt.” Can I get a show of hands? I thought not. You don’t like debt. I don’t like debt, either. But it can be a good thing.
The other day I drove my car into a service station, filled it up, presented the credit card, and signed the slip without even looking. Just an ordinary credit card transaction. But that night, when I got home and was ready to record the day’s business in my computer, I discovered that the clerk had made a mistake, and, although I had bought $22.50 worth of gasoline, he had keyed in only $2.25! Not much of a mistake, right? It’s only a zero! Except that it shorted the gas station by more than $20.00. Well, what do you think I did? After a whoop and a holler about free gasoline, I began to think. That was a legitimate debt, and I owed it. So the next day I took that receipt and a $20.00 bill and plunked them down at the service station, to the great astonishment of the manager. But I knew that if you are in debt, you want to be clear, so you pay. None of us like debt.
I have a friend who was almost obsessive about paying his debts. He would get home from work, get the mail out of the box, and before doing anything else, would go to his desk and write checks to cover his bills. All of that before dinner or even, “Honey, I’m home”. Now that’s not liking debt. But do you know what happened to my friend? He lost his job. Suddenly he didn’t have the money to pay his bills obsessively. In fact, he had to borrow just to get the necessities taken care of. It was hard. But his wife said to me, “This is the best thing that has ever happened to my husband. Now he knows that he is not self-sufficient. Now he understands that debt just means that we are human, that we need other people.”
We may not like debt, but it can be a good thing. Debt can be a very good thing spiritually, because it reminds us that we are connected with others and that we need others. The most important debts you owe are spiritual debts. These debts involve no cash; they are spiritual debts.
Paul spoke of being in debt. He thought of himself as spiritually in debt to some very interesting groups of people:
I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.
Now what does that mean? I could understand Paul saying that he was in spiritual debt to the Jews, his religious and racial heritage. I could understand Paul saying that he was debtor to his old teacher, Rabbi Gamaliel. But debtor to the Greeks? Debtor to the barbarians? What has he received from them?
I hear Paul saying that he has been shaped, and is therefore in debt, to all who have influenced him, all who have challenged him. Paul is in debt to those who confronted him and shaped him. Like Ulysses in the Odyssey who says, “I am a part of all that I have met”, Paul also is a part of all who have bumped heads with him. He is debtor to all who have challenged him. Let’s think about that a little.