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HOMILY ON THE UNFORGIVING SLAVE
fr_basil
HOMILY ON THE UNFORGIVING SLAVE (DEBTOR)

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!

This morning's Gospel reading talks about two slaves. The translations say "servants," but when I think about "servants" I think about Downton Abbey - Mr. Carson or Mrs. Hughes; free men and women whose job is to perform domestic duties or to act as a personal attendants. But that isn't what's going on here. These are slaves in the parable. They are owned by the Master. They belong to him. They are responsible and answerable to him. One of these slaves is very highly placed in the household, isn't he?  He not only has lots of authority and power given to him by his master, but he has complete access to the master's assets. The other one is lower in the slave hierarchy. He is under the direct authority of first one. We know that because he has no means to resist the abuse of the first one. What else do we know about these two slaves? We know that the first one is a huge criminal, having embezzled a fortune. It was only discovered when the master began to go over the books, as the parable says. The second slave borrowed a modest amount of money from the first one. To understand how much money was stolen by the first slave, let's look at it like this: He would have to work for 20 years to earn one talent of silver. He owed 10, 000 talents. The second slave borrowed the equivalent of three months wages for a common laborer. Why did he need the money? The parable doesn't tell us, and it really doesn't matter, because the "money" isn't about money at all. It's about sins. The parable is basically about two things: sins and narcissism. I know: you're going to ask, "but isn't it about forgiveness?" Of course it is, and I'll explain how it still fits into these two categories.

First let's talk about sin. The Master represents God. He sees that we human beings are steeped in sin, overwhelmed by sin. We are powerless to overcome the enormity of our sinfulness either by force of will or even by the Law of Moses. Yet, our Master, Christ, comes and He forgives us all our sins. He simply erases them by means of holy baptism and by the Mystery of Confession. But the question of the parable is how do we regard the nature of this forgiveness. What impact does that forgiveness have in our lives and in the way that we regard the sins, or the failings of others. Let's look at this in another way. Let's look at driving. How many of us become angry, even furious, when someone cuts in front of us in a dangerous way - no signal, no nothing. We're startled, we hit the breaks, and then, there it is, fury, gestures, thoughts, words. But what about when WE do it? What about when we rush through the intersection, the traffic light decidedly pink? Or WE cut quickly in front of someone because "Oh, I'm going to miss my turn, or, I can't be late for my appointment. What excuses we find for our own behaviour! This is what I consider a kind of spiritual narcissism. That is the second theme of our parable. What is narcissism after all? It is extreme selfishness, an almost erotic self-centeredness, with a grandiose view of one's own talents, abilities, worth or importance. It is egoism to the max. It is what the holy fathers call the passion of "self-love." We are all over someone else for their sins, but we forget entirely about our own. We'd love to take those drivers, those family-members, those co-workers by the throat and throttle them, but with our own sins we are mild, gentle, forbearing, with every lame excuse making perfect sense to us. How can we not be forgiving, brothers and sisters, considering how many sins we have been forgiven by God? How can we not be forgiving of others considering how many sins God continues to forgive us?

St John Chrysostom says: "What are you doing, O man? Do you not perceive that you are making the demand upon yourself, you are thrusting the sword into yourself, and revoking your own pardon, your own gift of grace? But none of these things did he consider, neither did he remember his own state."

Some people think that the Orthodox Church, the services, the Prayer Book, everything is too dark, too negative. They think we spend WAY too much time concentrating on our sins and failings. Look at all the "Lord have mercy's" in the services; look at all the penitential type prayers in the prayer book; look at Great Lent! But believe me, the weapons must be strong and they must be durable, and employed continually if we are to have any success at all in the battle against our sins and against our spiritual narcissism. After all, when Adam first transgressed in the garden what did he do? He made an excuse for himself and he blamed somebody else!

According to St Theophylact of Ohrid, the unmerciful slave does not represent just one man, but all of humanity. Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov writes that each of our sins is significant, since each offends God. Our sins are as numberless as the talents in the parable. The 10,000 talents are our sins against God's Ten Commandments, our total debts of ingratitude for God's countless mercies toward us. We live in sin and each day increase our debt to God. This is one of the reasons, for me anyway, that I prefer the translation of the Lord's Prayer that says "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." It reminds me exactly of this parable. St John Chrysostom says that the Master in the parable had no intention of selling that first slave. He only wanted to frighten him into recognizing his state. He writes: "He only wanted to make the servant understand how many debts he was forgiving him, and through this means to compel him to be more lenient toward his fellow-debtor... having realized both the weight of his debt and the greatness of his forgiveness." May this parable, and this our little reflection on it this morning, accomplish the same in us. May the Lord grant us to "see our own transgressions and not to judge our brother." May the Lord free us from our own spiritual narcissism, that we might conform more closely to His loving and forgiving likeness. Amen.

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