A priest wants to buy a car for a friend who has been down on his luck, but can’t for one ridiculous reason. A new father needs to buy a home because his small apartment is too small for his growing family, but the same barrier prevents him. Countless young men and women have bought things they never needed in attempt to dodge the same predicament: no credit. Not bad credit. Just no credit.
We live in a society where we are encouraged to get into debt, yet the Bible advises us not to do so, telling us, “the borrower is the slave of the lender” (Proverbs 22:7), and “Owe no one anything, except to love each other” (Romans 13:8).
Why is God so concerned about us getting into debt? Because debt is essentially about much more than owing someone something. It has everything to do with the relationship between God and humanity. There is this intrinsic human guilt concerning a debt we need to satisfy before we leave this earth, and it is only through mercy that this intrinsic guilt could be satisfied.
At first I would be inclined to think that the subject of debt is primarily a fiscal concern, but when we look closer at salvation history, it’s actually about much more than that. The entire story of the Bible is based on the dilemma of a debt we could not pay, and salvation from the one who paid that debt, though he did not owe it.
Through all of salvation history, from the fall of man, through the sacrifice of Cain and onward through every ensuing sacrifice until Christ, God is driving home the fact that he never wanted us to get into this debt because there is no way we can fix it. So, while other nations got into debt with one another, God set Israel apart as an example to other nations, telling them, “You shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow” (Deuteronomy 28:12). Furthermore, he told Israel to forgive all debts every seven years (Deuteronomy 15).
In all of these instructions regarding debt he gave to Israel, God was foreshadowing what Christ would do. Christ not only did his father’s will by remaining blameless (debt free), and by forgiving his debtors, but he even went as far as to pay the debt of those who owed him everything for the offenses we committed toward him and the mercy he showed us in return. Could our God show us a more perfect love?
As if there weren’t enough traditions and stories in the Old Testament where God was foreshadowing the mission his son would fulfill, we have here in the very concept of debt, the message and story of salvation through not just anyone, but Christ alone. It’s as if, through all the strange instructions, traditions and customs God taught his people in the Old Testament, he was saying to them, “Do this, don’t do that. I’ll explain later.”
God continues to offer this mercy through the efficacy of the Mass. But something still isn’t right. How can he let us off the hook just like that? Even if a thief is forgiven by being spared a jail sentence, justice demands him to return whatever he stole to its rightful owner.
This is where purgatory and indulgences come in. While Christ paid the debt we could not pay, God would not be just if he let enter heaven in our sinful state. He offers the opportunity to get cleaned up in this life, through indulgences, and the next, in purgatory. As Christ said, “You will never get out until you have paid the very last penny” (Luke 12:59). God is indeed merciful, but he is also just.
If we are to receive his mercy, like a good parent, he still has to make sure we learn our lesson. Part of that lesson requires that we also show others the mercy Jesus showed on the Cross and taught in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
Through it all, God was teaching the Israelites, and subsequently us, to show the charity and mercy that he would show, and did show, through his son. As he invites us to become his sons and daughters through baptism, he is also calling us to show this same mercy to others.
David Kilby is a freelance writer for The Monitor and a parishioner of St Mary Parish, Barnegat. He can be reached at [email protected].[[In-content Ad]]