|Collect, for the forgiveness of sins|
His master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?'
Liberation Theology, a controversial movement among Catholic theologians of South America following the Second Vatican Council, showed how the powerful inadvertently overlook the advantages they enjoy in their relationships with less powerful persons.
The classic example: When a poor man is shown two pictures of a casa (a house), but one picture shows a palace and the other, a hovel -- the poor man is immediately struck by the oddity of two radically different structures having the same name, casa. The wealthy man does not notice that oddity. It makes perfect sense to him.
Another example, two people play Monopoly but one plays with two dice and the other is allowed only one die. The person with two dice invariably wins. That person believes she played fair and square and deserved to win; the other believes she had no chance to win despite her best efforts.
When disparity of power appears in ordinary financial life, the more fortunate believe they should have all their blessings. That their parents were married, they grew up in cleaner homes, had better nutrition, studied and played in safer environments, had better learning materials and more qualified teachers -- seems only right. They "worked for" their advantages, owe nothing to the less fortunate, and should make every effort to protect their secure status. They do not hesitate to demand justice when they believe they have been wronged by the less fortunate.
Jesus describes that situation in today's parable. We should understand that Roman slavery was not nearly as barbaric as American slavery. Roman slaves, even in Palestine, were afforded more freedom and responsibility, and could accumulate some wealth. Some bought themselves and their families out of slavery.
So here's a slave who has accumulated massive debts for his owner due to his own mismanagement. We're not told if his incompetence was due to criminality, stupidity, foolish risks or bad luck. In any case he is in way over his head and also in deep denial. He cannot possibly regain his losses but nevertheless pleads with his master, "Just give me time and I will pay you back in full."
The master strips him of authority but mercifully decides against selling the fellow, his wife and children on the slave market to recoup at least some of his losses.
However, the fool goes out and senselessly thrashes a fellow slave who owes him only a fraction of what he had owed, and can certainly pay him back. Perhaps he is still suffering the humiliation of begging for, and being shown, mercy. He certainly cannot see that he once enjoyed great authority over a poorer man and now has been reduced to an inferior status. His punishment is severe and, by the standards of the Storyteller, just.
This should be a sobering parable for those who think they have a right by birth, race or religion to happiness. Many people enjoy the illusion that they have worked for everything they have, and completely ignore the advantages they were handed at birth. Few can imagine the harm they perpetuate by their lifestyle choices, or the savage violence that protects their security. They don't want to know what many Veterans know about American military adventures in foreign countries, or what happens behind the thin blue line in our major cities.
Fortunately our Church does provide some avenues of communication from one side of town to the other, across the proverbial railroad tracks. If our congregations are segregated by economic status we might at least hear the cry of the poor from those who speak for them. Some devout Christians volunteer in food kitchens, homeless shelters and general hospitals. Also, some of our family members have fallen on hard times and we still care for them.
We should heed the warning of this parable and privately admit, "Everything I have is gift." And, "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy."