Debt of love

Homily 427 – 11th Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
August 23, 2020
Epistle: (141) 1 Corinthians 9:2-12 and (240) Philippians 2:5-11 (Dormition)
Gospel: (77) Matthew 18:23-35 and (54) Luke 10:38-42; 11:27-28 (Dormition)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

What do we owe God?

It is the unasked question in today’s gospel passage. I’ve spoken before about the incredible amount owed in this context – 10,000 talents is the equivalent of $60 million days of work. About three and a half billion dollars.

And so, we might take our ease thinking “I don’t owe God that much.” But is that correct? How much do we owe God?

Perhaps we need to start with the fact that we can’t put this into monetary terms. What is the value of a human? How is that value determined?

When I was growing up Steve Austin was the $6 million dollar man. He had parts of his body, mangled in a spacecraft accident, rebuilt with bionics. The parts they put on him were valued in those days at $6 million dollars. In today’s dollars that would be the $35 million dollar man.

But that is just the body parts. What about the mind? The thoughts?

What about the love? Each person is someone’s child. Each person is possibly someone’s spouse or parent or friend.

What is the value of that love?

Think back to Moses, and his mother. Not many people, I imagine, know her name, nor the name of Moses’s father. Both are not named in the book of Exodus. His father is referred to as “a certain man from the tribe of Levi” and his mother “a daughter of Levi.”

Jewish traditions calls them Amram and Jochebed. What is their value? Without them, Moses would not have been born nor protected.

What’s the value of the Kentucky farmer whose son grew up to become the president of the United States who reunited a country and freed millions from bondage?

What is the value of a first-generation American, who spoke German at home, who was a saw blade sharpener at a lumber mill, whose daughter became the mother of my mother?

We speak at times of human rights – what we mean is the rights of every person who lives. A parallel concept is that of human value – every person holds infinite value. First and foremost because we are all unique. There is only one of us.

Conjoined twins are two persons, unique from each other, even though irrevocably united.

And each person, regardless of circumstance, is the beneficiary of God’s love. Even me – especially me. We cannot come into being on our own. We cannot create out of nothing. We can only work with what God gives us.

The scriptures say that God knows the number of hairs on our head. Even those hairs like mine whose length is longer but number fewer.

Before we were born, we are told, God knew each of us. Intimately. Who we are, truly, as humans.

And that is value. In effect, when we ask what the value of a human is, we are asking what is the value of God’s love – our Creator. What is the value of life? Of thought?

That is what we owe God. A debt we can never repay. A service we owe to our creator.

What He asks of us instead is quite generous, actually. Since we can’t repay Him, we are expected to forgive each other. Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors, as the Lord’s prayer is sometimes translated.

If we don’t forgive our debtors? The ones who owe us? Then God has every right to reinstate our debt – the debt we can never repay.

For me, I choose to terms things in the positive rather than debt, which I personally perceive to be negative. True, for sure, but negative.

In a positive way, I choose to love others as God loves me. For who they are – not who they might become, or who they are when they are good.

God loves me, even though I am fallen, and far from perfect, and consistently selfish. God’s love is unconditional. And so –

That is how I strive to love. Unconditionally. And I encourage all of us to love that way.

“But Father,” you may say. “you don’t know what they said about me.” Doesn’t matter. You don’t know what they did to me.” Doesn’t matter. Love them anyway.

I’m the first to admit that sometimes all the love I can muster is to stay away from a person. The medical love – first do no harm!

God is patient with us. We should be patient with others. We don’t have to have everything fixed immediately. In fact, it is rare that we will have everything fixed immediately.

We aren’t fixed immediately! It takes a lifetime to restore our own humanity, even though Christ gave us that opportunity in an instant – a moment.

It’s OK to not engage with people who are trying to hurt us. That may be the most loving thing we can do at that time.

Patiently, we can wait for time, circumstances, our own feelings – whatever it is – to subside, so that we can re-engage with those, seeking forgiveness if needed and offering forgiveness in any event.

Because as Christians, that is what we do. We love – patiently, unconditionally, just as Christ loves us.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!