Cross Shame and Life

By Rev. David Wilson Rogers |  April 12, 2014

            Jesus Christ told a beautiful story about a servant that was so deep in debt that he faced a lifetime of misery.  His crushing financial obligation was so great that he was destined to a life that was literally chained to debt payments. Even then, the likelihood that he could ever pay down the debt was essentially zero. Broke, destitute, and facing the reality that he and his family would be sold into slavery, this man begged for mercy. Moved by his desperate pleas, his creditor fully forgave the debt—wiped it off the books!
            As the church prepares to begin Holy Week and retrace the final steps of Jesus Christ from the celebrations of Palm Sunday to the brutality of the Cross on Good Friday, this simple parable about a man trapped in debt is a powerful way to see how we can apply the Cross to everyday life.
            The story does not end with this man’s forgiveness. Now debt-free, this man then confronts one of his own peers and demands money owed. Although he knew first-hand the liberation that comes from forgiveness, he was unwilling to extend the same grace toward a small debt owed to him. So, this man had the debtor thrown into prison for a small debt that was a mere fraction of the one he previously owed.
            When it comes to forgiveness, nothing speaks louder than the events of Good Friday. In order to assume the debt of sin, our scriptures tell us that Jesus bore the weight of that debt’s cost. His crushing load of debt was the brutality of Rome’s heartless and vengeful punishment. In recounting the proclamation of the Temple Priest once the appropriate sacrifice had been accomplished, Jesus said, “It is finished.” As he breathed his last, the temple curtain was torn in two from top to bottom and the burden of debt to sin was forever abolished from the shoulders of humanity. Along with sin, its powerful allies of guilt, shame, disgrace, humiliation, and segregation were abolished at the cross.
            The man of whom Jesus spoke in his story of forgiveness was quickly exposed by others in the community. Where they once rejoiced for him because his burden was lifted, they now turned him in for failing to show the same mercy to one of their own. When news of his cruelty reached the one in charge, the man was condemned to torture and forced to repay the debt.
            In light of the Cross of Jesus Christ, this story stands as a prophetic caution and warning. It is one thing to say that our sins are forgiven in the Cross of Christ. This is good news and news that restores hope in powerful ways. Simply imagine all the mistakes you have made. Now imagine that the weight of every stupid decision you have made, every selfish moment, every bit of greed, every hurtful word that has flown from our mouth, every fit of rage that has torn the fabric of love … all that we have done. It is forgiven; washed away, and we are made clean. A debt you and I could never repay is wiped clean!
            Yet for many Christians, the joy of God’s forgiveness, grace, new mercy, and hope that comes from the Cross is selfish and superficial. Any time we choose to pass harsh, punitive, vindictive, or hateful judgment on another person, we become the unforgiving man in Jesus’ parable. When our forgiven, Christian lives only reflect scorn, shame, guilt, or disgrace on others—even when we presume to be justified in our righteous indignation against what we presume to be their sin—rather than proclaim the love of God, we only duplicate the same narcissistic and selfish retribution that nailed Jesus to the Cross in the first place.  The Christian radiates life from the cross, not more death.