Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Matthew 18:21-35

This passage occurs in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently September 2020. 
Summary:  A classic tale of forgiveness.  A man owes an absurd amount (Roughly 6 billion by my calculations).  After being forgiven he arrests his friend who owes him a couple of hundred dollars.  I would like to put it in terms of relationship.  The man has misunderstood his relationship to God (as being a recipient of mercy) and his relationship to other humans (co-recipients and fellow-sharers of mercy).  This causes his to further sin.  Jesus warns us of dire consequences when we fail to understand the true nature of our relationship with God and with others.

I suggest this is Matthew's version of the prodigal God and prodigal son, except the younger son became the older son.

Key words:
μυριων ταλεντων ("ten thousand talents", 18.24)  A talent is roughly 5,000 to 6,000 denarii.  This means that 10,000 talents is like 500,000 denarii.  A denarii is a roughly a day's wages.  @120/day this is about 6 billion!  (Or almost 2,000 years of labor).  In comparison the few hundred denarii would be about $30,000.  That is quite a difference.

σπλαγχνισθεις (form of σπλαγχνιζομαι, meaning "compassion", 18.27)  The master has compassion on the slave.  This is also the word that describes the father's heart toward the son in the prodigal son.  In many ways, this is a prodigal master/king/lord:  He lends his son an absurd amount and then forgives it.  Who does this action, but for a child!!  I think the master/Lord, through this repayment is grafting this slave into the family, although the slave doesn't realize it.

δανειον  ("debt"; 18.27) The use of this word for "debt" here is unique in the NT.  The word normally carries with it a suggestion of interest, even usury with this debt.  Most simply it means a loan.  God is calling the loan and then forgives it.  What has God loaned you!?  It is interesting that in the other classic parable of talents, the man talents are loaned.  Perhaps they are loaned here as well!

αφηκεν (from αφιημι) and απελυσεν (from απολυω)  These are both verbs that are related.  The first means "forgive" or "let go"; the second means "set free."  It is interesting that even though the slave's debt was freed, the relationship status did not change.  To what extent was he freed?   It is an interesting parable in that the masters work of forgiving and setting free does not change the heart of the person.  Tough to ponder.

ει τι ("whatever" 18.28)  The exact construction of the phrase "Pay what you owe me" is rather interesting. It actually includes an "ει τι" phrase. This phrase is normally translated "if anything," as if to say, the man was not even really sure what the debt was, if in fact, it was anything.

παρακαλεω ("encourage"/"plead"; 18.29, 32)  This is a powerful theological word used twice in this section.  In verse 29, the verb is used in the imperfect tense.  Jesus (Matthew) presents us with an image of one constantly begging.  (The word for Holy Spirit is derived from this word:  "paraclete")

συνδουλος ("fellow-slave" 18:28, 29, 31, and 33)  The Greek can put "fellow" and "slave" together in one word.  Powerful word.  Fellow slave.  Do we view each other as fellow slaves to sin!

ελεησαι (from ελεεω, meaning show mercy, 18.33)  To the extent this is revealing about God, the point is  that God does not simply possess mercy, but actively shows mercy.

βασανισταις (-στης, meaning "jailer" or "torturer", 18.34)  This is a hard word.  I don't like the idea of one being tortured.  On the one hand, the word means "jailer" so perhaps Jesus is simply referring to the act of the imprisonment.  The other way to think about this is that the word torture in Greek comes from the word test.  Perhaps this slave is put up to another time of testing, this time hopefully to succeed.  The word comes from a rag that was used to test whether gold was real.  The person needs to go and discover what he really is - a sinner yet a child of God!

Grammar review:  Future vs. Subjunctive:  Sins aren't subjunctive in this case!
The Greek language is obsessed with the future.  There are multiple ways to show the future implications of a given action.  Worth noting is that there is no future subjunctive.  Either something will happen in the future or it might happen starting from this moment forward in an unknown time.  But you cannot do "might happen in the future"; that simply means might happen.  Today, when Peter is asking Jesus about forgiving others, he does not put the verb αφησω (forgive) in the subjunctive.  The whole sentence is in the future.  In short, Peter expects sin and forgiveness. The sentence literally reads: "How often will my brother against me and will I forgive him? Until seven times?"

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