Often when we read the English translation of the New Testament we encounter conceptual difficulties. One great example of this is verse 9: "if you eye causes you to stumble . . .pluck it out . . . better to enter life with one eye than to have two and be thrown into the hell of fire." When I think of the word "hell" the concept I think of, probably rooted in middle ages literature, is a place of eternal torment with brimstone, fire, the devil, etc. The Greek word that gets translated "hell" here is the word "Gehenna". Gehenna is one of the valleys leading out from Jerusalem. It has a rather nasty history. It was, at one time, the place where Moloch worship was practiced -- the worshipers would offer their children to the sacrificial flames. Probably because of this practice in later years, and by the time of Jesus, the Hinnon valley was the city garbage dump where all manner of refuse and trash was thrown and burned. The fires in the valley never went out. The image changes how we read the passage. Jesus is not talking about eternal punishment as much as he is saying we are not worth being thrown onto the garbage heap of history.
The parable of the unforgiving servant -- this Sunday's (July 29th) message at Christ Church. Is a study in extreme hyperbole. Jesus tells this story to make one very clear point. The first servant owes 10,000 talents. A talent was 15 years wages for a common laborer (assume minimum wage in modern time - $7.25/hour x 40 hours a week = $290 a week or $15,080 a year x 15 years = $226,200 per talent). The amount owed is ridiculous and ludicrous by any eras standard -- it is an unthinkable sum by my math 10,000 talents in modern terms comes to $22,620,000,000 (starting to sound like the national debt). The second servant owes the first servant 100 denarius -- a denarius was a days wage for the common laborer so, again using minimum wage as the standard, about $5800 modern dollars. This is not a small amount of money (at least not small to me) but when compared to 22 billion is pathetically tiny.
The point of the story is that the cost of the payment of our debt to God is beyond our wildest calculations and our ability to pay (the cost of our payment is the life of the Son of God). It is a debt so enormous that it is beyond our ability to ever be able to pay -- we are lost, profoundly lost and only by the grace of God will it ever be paid. The good news is that the Kingdom of the Heavens has arrived! The debt is cancelled and paid in full (FORGIVEN). Having been forgiven what we could never forgive for ourselves -- having a debt paid that we had no hope of paying ourselves -- we ought to extend that same grace and mercy to each other. This is a central theme of Jesus ministry: you have been forgiven -- forgive! Forgive us our sins AS WE forgive those who sin against us. We are blessed to be a blessing! Someone once said "salvation only comes to us on its way to someone else: if it stoped with you it wasn't real!"