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5,000 Lifetimes {Can I Repay God for His Mercy?)


Dear friends,

I took the summer off from writing. We played and worked at the lake. Oh, I’m so thankful. But the routine of fall is a lovely thing, like a waltz after a season of cacophony. So I’m thankful for the respite summer break provides, thankful for the family time and the space and the sunshine and I’m thankful for the falling into order that comes as the calendar turns. I’m still praying and wondering about God’s direction for me. I’ve missed interacting with you, missed the time in the Word and in words together. So although I’m still seeking direction, I’ll be here from time to time.

Today’s post is all about Mercy. I’m linking up with Lisa-Jo, but I have to confess, I don’t usually stick to the five minute rule. It’s not a matter of refusing to put my words out unedited, but when I consider a passage like this one in Matthew 18, five minutes doesn’t do it justice. I want to be a bit more responsible with that.

Mercy is intrinsically tied to forgiveness. This truth is what makes it hard for us to really comprehend. Because we all want forgiveness, but do we all want to forgive?

Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, even as I had mercy on you?

It was Peter’s fault really. He was the one who had to put a place value on forgiveness.

Seven times. Clever Peter, choosing God’s favorite number.

So when he asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother? Seven times?” Peter was hoping for an approving nod.

What he got was this: never stop forgiving.

Jesus replied with an equation (up to seventy times seven) but his meaning was clear in the story he told Peter to illustrate the idea that mercy, God’s mercy, knows no measure.

Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.  But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made.  The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’  


Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.


“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.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.


So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done.  Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me.  Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ {Matthew 18:22-33 NKJV}

This servant, probably a high-ranking official to the king in this fictional story, was in tremendous debt. Think along the lines of national debt. This was no Capitol One Visa or school loan or even home mortgage level debt. This was exorbitant liability.

Ten thousand talents.

I’m not a mathematician, so comparing ancient Roman coinage with modern currency requires I do a little research. So with a calculator and Google to assist me this is what I found out about this man’s debt.

1 talent = 6,000 denarii. A denarius was a working man’s wages.

10,000 talents = 600,000 denarii

The experts who have spent oodles of time agree that 10,000 = 200,000 YEARS’ wages.

If a laborer worked for forty years, it would take him 5,000 lifetimes of work to repay the debt of 10,000 talents.

Jesus chose a number that high to prove one thing: the debt was simply irreparable.

His servant was desperate, begging. To be clear let’s say he was freaking out.

The king was “moved with compassion” and forgave the entire debt.

The word used in the Greek for forgive meant a complete absolving of any responsibility his servant might have had.  The words compassion and pity in this story mean mercy.

Mercy: kindness or good will towards the miserable and the afflicted, joined with a desire to help them.

Ah, here’s the gift in the story. The King, who’s wealth must have been truly great in order to waive such indebtedness, was led by his character (kindness and good will) and acted upon his innate ability to have mercy by coupling the desire with action.

The King was aware of the risk in such a move. He calculated the cost and considered his servant worth more than his past mistakes. He was willing to give him a second chance – no strings attached.

So, there was no contract signed. There were no stipulations made that the forgiven servant must, in turn, cancel all debts against him as well. He was free to go. That servant could have gone on vacation or gone home to hug his kids and kiss his wife; he could have stayed in the court of the king and served with greater fervor and devotion.

The point is: the king set the servant free.

But the human heart is fickle, and this man’s heart was a crooked, cramped place. He forgot gratitude. He forgot the cleansing flood of mercy. He forgot the rush of happy freedom he felt as he skipped from the throne room.

He saw the other debtor, the one who owed a mere 100 denarii (only a few months’ wages). It was a reasonable debt, one that could be paid back. The patience begged of him was minute.

But was it greed or ingratitude that motivated the servant to demand the pittance be repaid upon demand?

Or was it absence of mercy? Was this servant so bereft of character, virtue or integrity that he utterly lacked mercy?

Yes. This was the point Jesus was making to Peter.

Don’t be that guy, Peter. Don’t be without mercy. Don’t be so full of your own sense of justice that you forget that God’s economy is hinged on mercy, fueled by compassion and the currency is always love.

And can we run out of currency when the God of love is always laying out the cash?

Only if we don’t go collect it every day. Only when the pipeline is crimped by our own hand, our own willfulness.

We have one thing that is ours, that God won’t touch or mess with or take away: free will. It is the greatest gift he gave to humankind. We always have the power to choose.

Free will is like a revolving credit account. We have access to it always and we can spend it however we like, but we need to pay attention to our usage, monitor our accounting. Because there will be a day the books are balanced.

And friends, it’s not a matter of time running out on you. Nor will God’s mercy run dry. You won’t suddenly find your mercy line of credit frozen.

For every ounce of free will we possess, God possesses an equal amount of mercy. Pound for pound, dollar for dollar, whatever you choose, God has enough mercy to cover whatever trouble your free will causes.

So are you using your free pass to debt-free living to forgive others who have racked up hurts against you? Or are you concerned with measuring the hurt, counting the cost of your suffering?

The amount is relative. Whether an infraction is large or small doesn’t matter to God. He knows what it cost him to extend mercy to each one of us. Yet he doesn’t hold it over us, he simply says that we all fell short of his glory and we all have a debt that cannot be repaid even in 5,000 lifetimes.

How much time do you have? Do you want to spend it looking for ways to force others to repay you for the pain they’ve caused? Or, do you want to spend it running to the throne for more mercy to pass around to those who just might be as impoverished as you?

Jesus issues a warning at the end of the story:

“Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt. That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”

It’s a stern warning, but remember this is not money Jesus is talking about – it’s mercy.

Mercy is the most valuable commodity in the economy of heaven. Mercy is the very heart of God melted into the mint, and the cross at Calvary is the image stamped on one side of the coin. On the other side, there is an impression of the empty tomb.

Mercy is God’s continual response toward his creation. There is a day when time, as we know and measure it, will stop and the Lamb will become the Judge. The Bible makes that eventuality undeniably clear. {Revelation 5:5-14}

The entire story ends on a single word: heart. I image Jesus setting his palm on Peter’s chest, wordlessly asking:

What is in your heart, Peter? Just seven times?


If that’s all there is, you need a visit to the King. You need your ideas about justice and forgiveness and generosity of heart to be radically changed by God’s mercy.


He has compassion on you, Peter. It moves him always toward forgiving you, releasing you from the burden of this human blight of imperfection. He knows that your free will is a gift so tremendous that you can’t help but squander it sometimes. He knows you’re racking up debt faster than you can ever repay it. You know it, too.


Go to the throne room of the King, Peter. Get your heart full of mercy, heavenly and pure, and go on a spending spree of forgiveness. Use it all and then go back for more. Do that with your free will, Peter, and you’ll really live!

Friend, do you want to really live? Read that paragraph right up there with your name in it. What’s in your heart, friend? Do you understand that as much as you need mercy moment by moment, so does your brother, your sister, your uncle, pastor, former best friend, co-worker, husband, daughter?

Do you want to be free? Set others free, whenever and wherever you can.



  1. Hi Alyssa,
    Good to see you…thanks for doing all that research…wow, what forgiveness…I really liked Lewis Smedes book, The Art of Forgiveness, which goes into the process…of course, it begins with our willingness, which the servant did not have…blessings to you 🙂

    • I will have to find that one, Dolly. It really is an art, a life-art of sorts, isn’t it? This finding victory is grace – thank the Lord grace is abundant!

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