Remember the days when Opening Day of baseball season was a family event? Or any ball game, for that matter. Today, the average working man has to make a significant sacrifice to pay for tickets, parking, and concessions just to take his family to a ballgame. The same is true if a mom or dad wants to take the family to a good movie. Ironically, it’s the average American who has given our athletes and our celebrities the fame and wealth they enjoy to begin with!
We find this same principle operating in other institutions in our culture. For example, I recently got a notice from my homeowners association saying I have 10 days to get my driveway fixed. The next notice, they said, will be a certified letter. I look around my neighborhood, and almost everyone needs to get their driveway fixed! We are all going through economic challenges. I’m even out helping people all over the Gulf Coast who lost their homes to Hurricane Ike. I pay my association fees up front every year, I take care of my yard, and I’m a good neighbor. I’m helping one neighbor who is a widow with her fence and helping her get bees out of her house. Meanwhile, my brand new fence is falling down because our association had the cable company and gas company come in and dig up our back yards!
Even though we all pay our dues, our association has not taken care of security, roads, or sewage problems. We hear gunshots in the apartments around us. My house has been burglarized three times, and someone tried to break in a fourth time but the alarm scared them off. People all over the neighborhood are trying to sell their houses, but they haven’t sold. We’re all having problems; we’re all under pressure. Everyone right now needs a break.
These scenarios remind me of a story in the gospel of Matthew about a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. One servant owed the king, measuring in our terms today, millions of dollars, a debt he would never be able to pay off! The king ordered all the man’s possessions be sold and that he and his family be sold into slavery until the debt was paid. The man begged the king for mercy, saying, Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.
This is like the current economic crisis engulfing our country today. There is a top-down process occurring of trying to get the budget back in order and the economy stabilized. Using the parable’s analogies, there is the government (the king), the businesses in need of the government’s mercy (like the king’s servant), and then one more player in the picture- the average citizen who is also experiencing financial hardship and is in need of mercy.
The story goes on to introduce us to this third player. The king’s servant whose debt was forgiven went out and found somebody who owed him a hundred denarii (miniscule in comparison to the debt he himself had owed) and demanded immediate payment! He had been forgiven much, but he did not forgive his fellow servant who owed him little:
“But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.'” (Matthew 18:28-29)
The fellow servant said the exact thing as the first servant had said to the king! But instead of offering the same mercy, the unforgiving servant had his fellow servant thrown into debtors prison.
We see a parallel here in the big businesses that have been bailed out by the government. These are the credit card companies, the banking companies, mortgage companies, insurance companies, the auto makers, and so on. Yet, if somebody is one day late paying on their credit card, that same credit card company can jack up the interest rate as high as 29%! So you have someone who is really trying to pay their debts, but they’re getting squeezed by the same company their tax dollars helped to bail out in the first place!
Like the second servant in Matthew 13, most people aren’t asking for a handout or a complete bailout like the mortgage companies and banks received. They’re just saying, “Give us a little bit of a break, and we’ll pay it off in time.” But give us some grace! You’ve been given mercy, show us mercy!
My thoughts on a possible solution to the mortgage company crisis are these: With so many people losing their homes and houses sitting empty, and thus bringing down the value of the neighborhood, can’t these mortgage companies who have made billions off of bailouts and billions off of our money with their high interest rates just lower the monthly mortgage payments for a season to help those people who are really trying? Rather than causing more problems to the economy by booting people out of their homes and taking on property they can’t do anything with, wouldn’t it behoove them to lower their mortgage payments for a season?
Like the unforgiving servant, these companies asked for mercy and received mercy, but are unwilling to show mercy to the very people who helped them.
We’re hearing a lot right now about the differences in religions and what religions are prevalent in the United States. But when we talk about Christianity, we are not talking about an institution, we’re talking about people who have a relationship with Christ and desire (even in their imperfections) to be Christ-like. Many of Christianity’s proponents practice hate, fighting, animosity, and division. But the very answer the world needs today are those who would live and follow the teachings of Christ.