In Matthew 18:23-35 we find the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. The story goes like this: a king wants to settle his accounts, and calls to himself his servant who owes him a sum of money. The servant is unable to pay, and falls down before the king, begging for mercy. The king relents and wipes the servant’s slate clean. The story follows from there, and the servant whom the king forgave his debt is now demanding that his own servant pay him back the money he is owed. The second servant is likewike unable to repay the sum of money, and begs for mercy. The first servant, however, is harsh and doesn’t act in a merciful way. He throws his debtor into jail.
The basic lesson here is that in Christ we have been forgiven a huge debt, and therefore we should forgive others.
Last night, during family worship we read this passage in our reading of Matthew. I noticed that my ESV bible has a footnote for the amount that the servant owed to the king. In verse 24, it says that the sum was “ten thousand talents”, and then the footnote explains that a “talent was a monetary unit worth about twenty years’ wages for a laborer”. That sounds like a lot of money. But how much exactly?
We live in Canada, in the great province of Nova Scotia where minimum wage is $11/h. If we say that the average laborer works 40h per week, 52 weeks a year, we can calculate the annual wage as approximately $22,880. If we multiply that by twenty, we will get $457,600, which is the rough value of a talent in today’s currency. The servant had to pay the king 10,000 talents. This is $4,567,000,000. Four and a half billion dollars.
Now imagine you owed someone that kind of money. There is absolutely no way an ordinary person could ever repay that. And this is the size of our sin. Our sin is so vast that we can never repay God. And yet, he forgives us.
So, how much did the second servant owe? What amount had him thrown in jail? In verse 28, it says the amonut was “a hundred denarii” and the footnote again explains that a “denarius was a day’s wage for a laborer”. One denarius is 8h of work at $11/h, that is $88. One hundred is then $8,800, the sum that the second servant owed. Not exactly pocket change but still significantly less than what the king forgave the first. And so, we are to forgive others because their debt to us is significantly less than what God in Christ forgave us.