Friday, January 15, 2010

American's bankers need to remember Jesus' parable on debt forgiveness

Every time I read or think about the big U.S. bankers and the Wall Street brokers who seem so indifferent to their gluttonous and ill behavior that brought on the Great Recession and their ravenous appetites for big bonuses, commissions, and salaries today, I am reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew 18.

In this parable Jesus tells about a man who owed his master 10,000 talents (a money unit in that day). The man was not able to pay his huge debt, so the master began proceedings to sell the man, the man's wife, and the man's children into slavery to recover his money.

At that point the debtor pled for his life and the lives of his family members.

"The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,' he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything'."

Jesus then said, "The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go."
What happens next in the parable exposes the character of the man who has just been forgiven.

"But when the servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii (another money unit of that day but much smaller than a talent). 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 you back.'

"But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt."

Jesus concludes the parable by saying, "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 turned him over to the jailers to be tortured until he should pay back all he owed."

At the end of the parable Jesus says, "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."

Jesus' parable is incredibly parallel to what America's big bankers and Wall Street brokers have done and continue to do. When their backs were against the wall financially in late 2008, these financiers ran crying to the government for a huge bailout. They got it; the U.S. reprieved them from the mess they had created with their hoggish mortgage schemes.

Now that their fortunes are more secure because of the bailout, these same financiers continue to foreclose wildly on people's homes, jack up bank charges unmercifully, and act tight-fisted with even their best, most credit-worthy customers.

Most Americans have not escaped the ill behavior of these bankers. These individuals have figured out a million ways to dig deeper into everyone's pockets for extra profits to make more money for themselves—and to pay themselves bonuses accordingly.

Now President Obama for good reason is jawboning them for their ruthless behavior and threatening them with new taxes.

And well he should, because he is on solid biblical grounds.

The Bible says more about money than it does on any other single issue, including some of the pet issues of some church leaders.

Interestingly, few Christian leaders—evangelical or mainstream, liberal or conservative—have spoken out forcefully during the current national outrage over the indifferent, hoggish attitudes and behaviors of big U.S. bankers and Wall Street stockbrokers. The silence of most evangelical leaders on this issue screams loudly in our ears.

Even the mainstream and liberal church leaders have not been as outspoken about the bankers and Wall Street brokers as they should be.

I can't help wondering whether this situation is akin to the decades when churches remained silent on the hazards of smoking, while governments and secular groups drove home the point. Churches said nothing all because too many church leaders feared the wrath of—and loss of contributions from—wealthy tobacco growers and firms.

With the public's outrage growing daily and President Obama taking the lead on the issue, silent church leaders need to get out their Bibles and start studying the Scriptures again. Then maybe they will begin to act now before they are left once again choking on the dust from the public's disaffection with them for their failure to address the matter biblically.