Matthew forgives a servant who has been cheating him and the other servants, and Jesus gets a parable out of it
Jesus, Tuesday July 18
I felt a bit guilty at leaving Tom behind today but I didn’t want to disturb him, and I need my campaign manager to be ready to pull everything together on Thursday. Peter’s done a much better job than I expected, and he could be a great help to Tom in future.
Matthew and I agreed to look after the Nazareth area. With almost the whole town against us, no one wanted to volunteer for the trip, but Matthew wanted to check up on his house and I fancied a chance to see my family again without an entourage to get in the way.
It’s fortunate we arrived at Matthew’s house when we did. We could hear flesh-tingling screams from hundreds of yards off and almost ran the rest of the way. On entering the courtyard we found the head servant, a big strong man made stronger by anger, holding another of the servants against the wall of the house with one hand while hitting him about the head and body with the other. I put myself between them with my back to the aggressor, and pulled the junior servant to safety while Matthew dragged the head servant away by the shoulders and demanded to know what was going on.
The head servant said that the junior servant owed him six pence, about a week’s wages, and wouldn’t pay up. The junior servant had a different version of the dispute, which was that the head servant had decided to start charging him and the other servants for their keep. Given that the man earned very little cash, because the provision of food and accommodation was part of his pay, he had inevitably got into debt. Matthew demanded answers from the head servant to three questions: who paid the man’s wages, who provided his keep, and who had the right to demand extra payment. The answers were of course Matthew, Matthew and nobody with any decency, but the head servant declined to respond. Matthew then asked a fourth question.
“And how much do you owe me?
The head servant remained mute. Matthew remembered the previous figure exactly, and repeated it slowly.
“Plus there’s whatever you have stolen from me since then, then there’s everything you have managed to extort from the other servants to pay for things I provide to them, and to you, free of charge. I forgave you a debt that would have ruined you completely, yet you repay me by treating others despicably. Not only am I going to sell you and your family into slavery as a punishment, I’m going to have you flogged first.”
The man finally cracked and fell to his knees, clinging to Matthew’s ankles and weeping bitterly. I decided to add my condemnation of his disgraceful behaviour.
“You might well weep. But your real punishment will come from God. When the Son of Man descends to usher in the new age, which could be any day, you will beg him for forgiveness and he will look you in the eye and ask whether you forgave a loyal colleague. Then he will cast you out into the darkness where you will be free to weep for eternity.” I resisted the temptation to kick the evil piece of dirt, mainly because I was grateful to have gained a really good parable from the episode, and turned away from him.
“I will leave you here to do what you have to do,” I said to Matthew, adding that I was going to pay my parents a quick visit but would meet him again after that so we could eat together and discuss what to do in the morning before our return to Magdala.
Mum and Dad were fine, and we managed to talk for a couple of hours without falling out. Mum was more worried for my welfare than angry at me for seemingly stirring up the entire town against the family or wasting a good education. I asked after Hannah, and Mum said she seemed to be managing OK now.
“Yes, your wife’s been a great help to her…” said my father who, like many men of few words, often manages to say the wrong thing when he does eventually open his mouth. My mother’s look could have killed some men and even seemed to wound Joseph.
“What?” he asked.
Mum told me that Mary had been to see Hannah to give her support, but I could tell there was more to it than that. If the support had been financial I couldn’t stop her, but I wouldn’t want Tom finding out and being embarrassed, which is what I told Mum.
On my return to Matthew’s house I found him outside talking to a rich man. I had never seen the man before but his fine clothes, his ample figure, his two attendants and a camel marked him out as different. Even the saddle on the camel would have cost a year’s wages for most people, and the sneering animal looked better fed than the average servant. When their conversation had ended, the man bowed politely to me and was then helped up onto the camel by the attendants, who led it away. I raised a questioning eyebrow.
“You haven’t really sold them into slavery already,” I said, impressed by how quickly Matthew could work but concerned for the servant’s family.
“Not yet,” he said. “That man is going to arrange the sale of my house and its contents, and take on my other servants until he can get them jobs elsewhere. Obviously he will charge a fee, but it will enable me to concentrate on preparing for the end of the world instead of overseeing the sale. My head servant will be sent to a debtors’ prison and his family will have to fend for themselves. I believe I have been very merciful.”
“Oh you have,” I agreed, “and the money from the sale will be a massive help for the mission and stop us having to worry about that side of things. I don’t know where we’d be without the support of tax collectors sometimes.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Not one penny will be coming to the mission. I have heard you tell people time and again to sell everything they have and give the money to the poor, and I decided that if your own disciples can’t follow your teachings, no one can. Then I will be truly ready for the end of the age…Don’t look so dismayed, I’ve enough to buy us a decent dinner tonight, and I intend to donate the gold in my purse to your wife in return for what she has done for us all, but that’s it. And I have enough to pay for a night in an inn. I have handed over the deeds to my house, so we can’t stay here again.”
What could I say? The man was doing exactly what he should, and the poor and needy would benefit while he would save his soul. I was wrong to covet the money and was ashamed of myself. He did treat us to a really good meal and a bottle of wine, and we have separate beds at the inn, a real luxury. Tomorrow we’re going to put up a poster at the synagogue and talk to anyone who doesn’t openly abuse us, but I’m afraid that’s all the publicity Nazareth is going to get.