It is you alone who are to be feared. Who can stand before you when you are angry? From heaven you pronounced judgment, and the land feared and was quiet, when you, God, rose up to judge. –Psalm 76:7-9a
(…continued) The Psalmist was terrified at the thought of such an accounting before God and said, “Who can stand before you, O Lord?” The disciples shuddered at the thought of Christ’s demands and asked him, “How can anyone be saved?”
Jesus once told a parable about a settling of accounts (Matthew 18:23-35):
(Jesus said), “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
This king wanted to ‘settle accounts’ with his servants, and one man was brought to him who owed ten thousand talents– an impossible sum of money. One talent was the equivalent of 15 years of a common man’s labor, and this man somehow owed ten thousand talents. So “since the servant was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.” We might well feel that our accounting before God would be just as hopeless and impossible. But then comes a huge surprise. The servant begged for mercy and “the master took pity on him, cancelled the debt, and let him go.”
What an amazing and unexpected reversal! This is the kind of reversal of fortune that Jesus himself was here to bring for all sinners. Who, after all, could hope for anything after giving an account of himself before God? Who could proudly and confidently stand before God and say, “Yes, I have done all you have expected of me and obeyed you in everything and now I can stand before you without shame or regret.” No one could say that before the Holy and Almighty God– except by the forgiveness won on the cross for us by Jesus Christ. It is now Christ who stands with us at our accounting and declares that our sins have been forgiven and our debt is cancelled. On our own we deserve nothing, but by faith in Christ we can stand before God with confidence and hope.
There is one more important thing to take note of in the parable. That king certainly was a gracious king, and he gave that servant’s life back to him by cancelling that debt and giving him that wonderful word of mercy and release. But sadly, that was not the end of the parable. That word of mercy comes in the middle of the parable, and then the servant was sent back out into the world. The gracious word of the king did not mean there were no more worries or obligations for that servant; and God’s word of grace for us does not mean we can now ignore anything else God might have to say to us. We are still living in the world, and God still expects us to live like his loved and forgiven people. That means that we must be willing to also love and forgive others, living in obedience to God’s commands. The fact that we face our day of reckoning with Christ at our side, does not mean that we may take advantage of that grace and disobey God’s commands. In the last verses of the parable, the king was shocked to hear that his servant, who had been forgiven so much, went out and had a fellow servant thrown into prison for a far smaller debt. God expects that we will forgive others as we have been forgiven. God expects that we show to others the kindness that we have been shown, and that we love others as God has first loved us. Yes, we have received grace upon grace from God, and with that in mind, we will want to live grace-filled lives.
Captain Miller’s sacrifice and last words inspired Private Ryan every day to live a good life, worthy of that sacrifice. In a far deeper way, the thought of Jesus Christ, and his love and sacrifice for us, ought to inspire us to want above all else to live a live worthy of such love.
O Lord, I give myself to thee, I trust thee fully. Thou art wiser than I, more loving to me than I myself. Fulfill thy purposes in me whatever they be, working in me and through me. I am born to serve thee, to be thine, and to be thy instrument. I ask not to see, and I ask not to know. I ask simply to be used by thee. Amen.
–John Henry Newman, Catholic cardinal and theologian (1801-1890)