The Priceless Cost of Forgiveness
There is no way around it, forgiveness comes with a cost.
During the time of Jesus’ ministry there was a widespread practice, and depending on how you look at it, it was either ingenious or insidious. Jewish law mandated the release of all financial debts every seven years between fellow Jews (Deuteronomy 15:1–2), and on a far broader scale, extending beyond Jewish brethren, on the designated year of Jubilee. This extraordinary demand of debt forgiveness, as should be appreciated, would have come at considerable expense to the lender. In order to remain faithful to Torah while at the same time not losing too much financially, lenders would often sell the remainder of a debt to a Gentile collector as they approached the seventh year of a loan. This inventive convention would allow the lender to recuperate much of the potential loss they might incur, and at at the same time, at least technically, never break his or her religious obligation.
As clever as this exercise was, it should be apparent this was never the objective of the original Mosaic dictate. Moral laws were never intended for wise guys to game the system through creative loopholes. This sinister practice proved one could technically keep the Law and at the same time shatter the Law’s intention by elevating the importance of one’s bank account over the wellbeing of another.
Paul warned, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). Likewise, Jesus made clear, “You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). One of the beautiful touchstones of Israel’s faith and Israel’s God, separating Israel from all the surrounding pagan systems, was how YHWH always demanded people were to be cherished over possessions and profits.
Jesus’ most famous commandmand (AKA “The Great Commandment”) is: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and all of your strength… And love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:37–39). The call of debt forgiveness and the call to Jubilee reminds us: Fellow humanity is far more valuable than any amount of money or any amount of sacrifice incurred by the option of not forgiving. The demonstration of debt forgiveness allows the world to witness our love of God, “with all of our heart, soul, mind, strength,” and wallets too. The true beauty of debt forgiveness is in the nature of its cost; an expensive sacrifice, revealing to all: People are precious! People come first!
Yes, there is no way around it, forgiveness comes with a cost. A cost that demonstrates, brothers and sisters are infinitely more valuable than anything else. Finally, we must never forget, people are so precious, Jesus demonstrated his radical forgiveness when he forgave us, not with a cheque, but with a cross — the most priceless and breath-taking gift of forgiveness ever offered!
A few months back I was asked to contribute a short composition for a potential devotional volume based around the Biblical theme of Jubilee; this reflection was my offering for the project. Many Thanks to Ruth Coghill for this invitation.