Summary: When we forgive others, we are also setting ourselves free.
Whether we love it or hate it, we all will be familiar with Coronation Street, UK’s longest running soap opera. I am not much of a television watcher, but I do have a soft spot for the street.
One reason is that the characters are like real people. They have flaws and blemishes, they do not wake up with perfect hair and they do not conform to artificial and unhealthy stereotypes of beauty. They are everyday people, to whom we can comfortably relate. Another reason is that sometimes the storylines really prompt us to ask difficult questions of ourselves concerning what we would do if we found ourselves in some of the dilemmas that the characters face.
One storyline from recent years concerned the character Emily Bishop. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, Emily is one of its oldest characters. Her very first appearance on the street in December 1960 was a mere 12 days after the very first episode was broadcast. Now in her late 70s, she is the show’s only regular churchgoer.
Although Emily can give the impression of being very timid, she can also be a tower of strength, and she certainly needed strength to deal with some of the tragedies she has faced in her life, especially when her beloved husband Ernest was murdered in a robbery that had gone badly wrong.
Twenty-eight years later, Emily was befriended by Ed, a new parishioner at her church. Ed had revealed that he had a past and had been to prison, and Emily initially accepted him. However, that changed when Ed confessed to her that it was he who had killed her husband all those years ago. He was genuinely repentant and sought her forgiveness. Ed had become a Christian while he was in prison and he was making a genuine effort to atone for what he had done.
Emily’s world was turned upside down by Ed’s revelation. All the rage and grief that she had so carefully suppressed for so many years now came to the surface. Her loathing of Ed for what he had done was overwhelming, yet she knew that as a Christian she was expected to forgive him. However, she could not bring herself to do so, and her crisis of faith even saw her temporarily turn her back on her church that meant so much to her.
Today’s gospel reading is often called the parable of the unforgiving servant. On the surface, it is one of the less difficult parables to understand. A servant in debt to his king pleads for mercy, and the king forgives his debt out of pity. However, the same servant shows no such pity to a second servant who is in debt to him. When the king hears how he has treated his fellow servant, he withdraws his mercy and judges him by his own standards. The key messages are that we must forgive others in order to be forgiven ourselves and that we will be judged by the standards by which we judge others.
However, if we delve a little deeper, we will note the difference in the debts owed by the two servants. The first servant owed the king 10,000 talents. Ten thousand was the highest Greek numeral and the talent was the highest unit of currency. Ten thousand talents was as large a sum of money as could be expressed in words, and the expression “10,000 talents” would have conveyed similar meaning to what “a trillion dollars” would today. Herod’s entire annual income has been estimated as being around 900 talents, so the debt owed by the first servant was greater than a province’s revenue, so it would be impossible for a servant to ever pay such an amount.