A Christology of Debtors and Creditors

Reflecting on the Gospel reading from this Sunday, I saw a lot that spoke of the relationship of debtors and creditors. Having had the experience of both sides, I find it a very interesting and challenging metaphor for the Kingdom of God. In our world where debt and credit are shared as much as blame and personal worth, are we able to truly forgive the debts of others, and expect others to do the same.

I should start out with two stories from my own experience:

For those of you who've followed my blog for a long time, you'll know that I struggled with paying off my personal debt. Religious orders usually require you to be free of personal debt before joining, and I knew that if I were to pursue a vocation, it was something I had to do. It was tough dealing with the lack of funds, but it provided me with a new outlook on money, finances, and personal responsibility.

When I started working for Elvis and making more money than I knew what to do with, I made great efforts to call my creditors and make arrangements to pay off my debts. By wanting to pay off lump amounts all at once, this should be easy. I thought to myself. What actually happened was a labor of patience. Company after company that I called seemed more interested in chastizing and berating me for not paying, rather than just accepting the money I was offering to pay back the debt. Most of these companies were collection agencies, but it seemed like they were trying to collect some cosmic retribution for the lack of payment in the past. Each phone call made angrier, hastening the process to pay off everything.

Months later, I would get a phonecall from one of the sales guys I worked with at my old sales job. He was having financial trouble and hadn't found a golden parachute after the restructuring of the last car lot. He asked to borrow $500. Willing to share out of my abundance, I lent him the money. (This is part where you wince and say: "Bad move!")

As you can imagine, he didn't pay me back as he said he would, and any attempt to call his house or knock on his door was futile. Eventually I had to leave for Postulancy in Milwaukee, and I had to forget about the debt.

In light of the Gospel, how do I see the role of debtor and creditor as witness to the Kingdom of God?

Traditional theology would have us believe we are debtors, and that Jesus paid the debt that none of us were capable of paying back. Because of the price paid by Jesus' death, we are capable of achieving Heaven; making Jesus the focus of forgiveness of debts, both past and present. It's a theory that Anselm started with, and it's continued for a while.

But perhaps there's another way to look at this metaphor. What if we're willing to look at ourselves as the creditors, people so eager to blame, to assess personal value, and to hold onto transgressions. What if we start to see Jesus as the creditor who chose to take the status of a debtor, as an example of how we should treat each other and each others' debts. And what if, as an example of the the love and compassion of the Kingdom of God, we could rebuild lives, mend relationships, and even, dare I say it, change the world...simply by letting those debts we tally as human creditors - fall away.

Or maybe I'm just an idealistic Franciscan who's been reading Duns Scotus.

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