What are we to make of Jesus’ warning that his Father will turn us over to prison and to torturers until we pay everything we owe if we do not forgive our brother and sister from our heart? (Matt 18:34-35)
And is there any connection between this statement and the way (one chapter later) Jesus answers the rich man who asked what good thing he could do to inherit eternal life? In that instance, Jesus broke the heart of the young man by telling him to sell all that he had to help the poor and then to come and follow him (Matt 19:16-22) (Mark 10:17-22).
More importantly is there a connection between these statements and the way Jesus’ public life came to a climax and end?
Here’s what I’m thinking:
1. Such difficult passages, like so many others in Scripture, come into perspective only as we understand the very nature of the Bible:
2. The Bible is, above all, the story of Jesus. In that sense, its Divine author, like the author of a well written mystery, wastes no detail while using every word to support the storyline.
3. The storyline of Jesus’ life comes to a climax in his death and resurrection.
4. The resulting Gospel connects the dots not only between every detail of the Bible, but also between every detail of our lives.
5. That Gospel was anticipated in Jesus’ words, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16), and reveals God not as an angry patriarch, but as a God of love (1John 4:8) (1John 4:16).
6. This foundational thought leads me to believe that everything Jesus taught, whether to his disciples about forgiveness, or to the rich young man about selling all that he had to give to the poor, is rooted in his love (Mark 10:21).
7. That means that even God’s anger, as explained by the Father’s attitude toward our refusal to forgive others as we have been forgiven, (Matt 18:34-35) is rooted in his perfect (holy) love.
8. This is because (1) the Cross of Christ (including Jesus’ life, resurrection, and promise to return) gives perspective to every supporting detail of the Bible (whether in the Old Testament before, or the New Testament that follows)… just as (2) every supporting detail of Jesus’ story gives depth of meaning to the Cross.
9. Apart from the cross of Christ none of us has any hope (whether because of lingering unforgiveness toward those who have hurt us (Matt 18:34-35), or because of our obsessive attachment to our material world.
10. The realization that what Jesus suffered for us is what welcomes us into the kingdom of Christ (now and forever); just as God’s love will, in this life and the life to come, show the losses that follow our lack of love (Matt 18:34-35) (Matt 19:21) (Mark 10:21).
So, in summary, even though we can barely begin to understand how the depth and breadth of such love works, we honor the Bible by realizing that (in behalf of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) (1) it is the story of the Living Word whose life, death, and resurrection put every other detail of the Bible in perspective, just as (2) every other detail of the Bible helps to give depth of meaning to the life, death, and resurrection of the Living Word.
Have tried to boil down a lot of issues into a few words. Will be interested to see how much of this makes sense– or doesn’t– to you.
Note: with this approach, am wondering whether “the torturers”of Matt 18:34-35 might be either (a) the pains of life that our Father uses to expose our lack of love, or (b) the “loving fires” of accountability (1Cor 3:11-15).