Spirituality

Using the imagination to understand Jesus: The parable of the unmerciful debtor

Saint Ignatius recommended visualizing oneself at the scene of stories from the Bible

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Parnach had waited long enough. He told his burly cousin that he needed help and together they went looking for Enos, the farmhand who owed him money. They found him drinking with another drudge in a rundown part of town. Parnach grabbed him by the throat and shouted, “I want my money!”

Enos wheezed, “I don’t have it.”

Parnach pushed him to the ground. “Do you think you can just take my money and waste it on food and drink, and that nothing ever happens? You keep saying that you are going to pay me back, but you never do! You haven’t paid me a thing. Do you think I’m a fool?”

Enos implored, “I’m sorry, but if…”

“Sorry doesn’t help me and doesn’t help my family. We can’t afford to buy the things we need because of deadbeats like you!” Parnach bellowed.

Enos tried again, “I thought, maybe, since the king wrote-off your debt…”

“My business with the king has nothing to do with you! Nothing!” Parnach seethed, jabbing a finger in Enos’s face. Then he said to his cousin, “Let’s take this guy to the magistrate so that he can throw him in prison.”

“But I can’t make it up to you from prison,” Enos pleaded.

“You’ll never make it up to me, so you might as well just sit in prison and rot!”

Parnach had good reason to be angry. He had loaned Enos money months ago and he needed that money now, but Enos had made no effort to pay him back. We can understand why Parnach would not want to forgive the debt. His insistence on repayment was not just a matter of the money; it was the principle of the thing!

Of course, the king had just forgiven Parnach a much larger debt. Parnach was happy that he had successfully weaseled his way out that problem, but he was not grateful. He did not really appreciate what the king had done for him. Had he recognized how fortunate he was, the loss of money to Enos would not have seemed so bad.

In addition, Parnach did not recognize the connection between the king’s forgiveness and the opportunity he had to do the same. For Parnach these were two completely unrelated matters. If he had seen the connection, maybe he would have been more sympathetic to the situation Enos found himself in and been more ready to forgive.

We often have difficulty forgiving, too. We have been hurt in some way and we do not want to write off the injury as if it were unimportant. The person who caused the damage is unwilling or unable to make it up to us, and we do not want to excuse them too easily. It’s the principle of the thing.

Jesus invites us to be aware of all that God has done for us and to be grateful. A thankful heart helps us keep things in perspective. While acknowledging that our injuries are real and significant, we realize that they are not worth dwelling on for too long. Jesus also invites us to see that, in forgiving us, God is inviting us to forgive others. None of us is perfect; we all make mistakes; we all owe debts that we can never repay. God invites us to seek a world of mercy and forgiveness in which none of us is weighed down by the mistakes of the past.

For the Mass readings for August 11, click here. To learn more about the painting of the king and unmerciful servant, click here.

Author’s note:  Jesus told us a parable about an unmerciful debtor and invited us to ponder its meaning. In reflecting on the passage I use my imagination to fill in the details.

Sealdi Calo

Fr. Dan Daly, S.J.

Father Dan Daly, S.J., is a Jesuit of the U.S. Central and Southern Province. A former professor of accounting and economics at Boston College and Regis University, he now serves as the province treasurer. He has presided and preached at student and parish Masses for many years. You can follow him on www.facebook.com/DanDalySJ.