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Uncomfortable to talk about debt – especially in a worship service.
But one translation of the line in the Lord’s Prayer can be “forgive our debts as we forgive others what they owe”
spiritual side to debt as well as something to do with human justice and our concern for the creation.
Today we think of Hope for Creation as we tackle the problem of debt. We need to face up to the facts first:

Today in Britain we are in the midst of a debt crisis.
· average UK household debt= £8,816 (excl. mortgages)
· £28,000.4 (incl. mortgages)
· debt out of control massive damaging consequences on people’s physical and emotional well-being,
+ enormous stress on relationships.

The global picture:
· debts of developing nations towards the banks and governments of Europe and North America.
· According to the Jubilee Debt Campaign:
- poorest 53 countries have debts totalling between US $290 and US $380 billion,
- poorest 149 countries, it is over US $2.6 trillion
- Much of this consists of loans from ‘70’s & ‘80s annual interest payments now vastly outweigh the original amount owed.
· UK taken the lead in encouraging other major governments to cancel debt, and has cancelled debt from a number of the poorest and most indebted countries, it still holds more than 2 billion dollars of debt from other poor countries.

Today’s Gospel
Today’s gospel reading from Matthew 18:21-35 is all about debt relief. It tells the story of a man who has been forgiven ten thousands talents; a sum equivalent to many millions of pounds in today’s money – but who refuses to forgive somebody else who owes him 100 denarii. This was not a small sum either – a denarius was a day’s wage, so this was more than three months pay. Often, sermons on this passage interpret it entirely spiritually. To an extent this is quite valid. Whenever we use the Lord’s Prayer we ask God to forgive us as we forgive those who sin against us. All of us need the forgiveness of Jesus – none of us can stand in God’s presence without receiving the full and free pardon that is possible because of Christ’s death and resurrection. We are called to forgive all those who upset, wind-up and annoy us, deliberately or innocently, and whether in word, deed or attitude. Spiritually, an attitude of unforgiveness is like a blockage in a stream that prevents the river of God’s mercy flowing.

However, we would be wrong to only interpret this parable spiritually. It also has something very powerful to say to today’s situation of massive personal and international debt. When Jesus started telling his story of cancelled debts, his Jewish hearers would have immediately thought of Leviticus chapter 25 – God’s
provision of a year of Jubilee. In fact, there is a clue in Peter’s question which provoked Jesus’ story – suggesting forgiving somebody seven times. In the Old Testament, the year of Jubilee was to be held every 50th year – 7 x 7 plus one. Jesus responds to Peter’s question by saying that his followers are to forgive their debtors even more – not 7 x 7 but 70 + 7. Of course he’s not saying you can stop forgiving on the 78th occasion! He is simply using symbolic numbers to tell us we must forgive over and over and over again – without ceasing.

So what is the year of Jubilee about? What relevance does it have to us today, and how does it link to our five-week theme of ‘Creation Time’?

1. Jubilee = God’s way of restoring God’s justice.
Much of the time, the world’s ‘justice’ only works on behalf of the rich and powerful.
· They can profit – often quite legally – from the misfortune of the poor, by buying up their property or land at knock-down prices.
· They know how to work the system;
· they can afford the best lawyers.

Gradually, inequalities build up – the rich = richer; poor = poorer
It happens within any society, and it happens globally today in our joined up global village.
· Today a few of the world’s richest individuals own more than the world’s poorest countries.
· The world’s richest 20% (which statistically includes everybody in the UK) have an income 74x greater than the world’s poorest 20%.

The principle of Jubilee = restoring a level playing field.
· It is God’s justice working on behalf of those who have suffered and failed – whether by their own fault or not.
· Property, freedom, ability to earn a living from the land are returned every 50 years.
· For the rich and powerful the canceling of debts and the returning of property may not seem like justice. (Surely they’ve earned what they have fair and square?).
· But that is not the only thing to take into consideration. Not the only way of looking at the situation.
· Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant speaks of the attitudes of those who may be in a better situation than others.

2. Year of Jubilee = the connections between people, land and God.
· Lev 25 - instituted as a time when debts cancelled, slaves freed, land that been sold if somebody fell into poverty was returned to its original owner.
· release for those enslaved because of debts, a Sabbath rest for land and people, redistribution of lands lost because of debt, and a reordering of prices for land and labour based on proximity to the next Jubilee.”
· Jubilee = reminder of what we looked at last week – that God, people and land are bound together in relationship – that we are part of the same ‘oikos’ or household.
· Unless we have a system such as Jubilee we will inevitably end up with massive imbalances in our world.

3. Jubilee = radical belief that all property – all money, all cattle and possessions, and all houses and land – do not ultimately belong to their human ‘owner’ but to God.
· Psalm 24:1 ‘The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it’. Lev 25 “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants. Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.”

Today we urgently need to recover a sense that the world and everything in it is not ours, but God’s. What we call ‘resources’ – oil, gas, coal, wood, water, crops – are not ours ultimately but God’s. We need a new relationship with earth – our home but God’s land – no longer seeing it as an inexhaustible toy store, but as a precious and fragile gift held in trust.

Copyright © Rev Paul Smith




Creator God,
you made us all in your image:
may we discern you in all that we see, and serve you in all that we do; through Jesus Christ our Lord.