Where Does Real Courage Come From?

Friday, October 11, 2013


Exposed                                          Reflections on Matthew 18:24-25

When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him.  But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made.
                                                                        Matthew 18:24-25

In our world, thieves stand before judges not kings or presidents or heads of state. But this story comes from a different culture dating back to ancient times and speeding upward and forward into the eternities of the kingdom of God.

It’s about a man, a wealthy man, summoned by his King.

I wonder what he thought when he first saw the King’s police coming for him. Is it possible he had no idea why they were storming his mansion, handcuffing him like he was a terrorist, and then forcing him into their transport? Was his mind that drunk in self-deceit he couldn’t even think what he’d done wrong?


Did he laugh under his breath when he heard the charges? Did he get that smug, arrogant look on his face when he told his wife to call his lawyers? They’d do what they do best. He’d be free by nightfall with the King’s most sincere apology.

Did he say it out loud, “You have no idea who you’re dealing with”?

I wonder what it was like when his lawyers finally broke the news, “There’s nothing we can do. What they say you owe, you owe.” He watches his legal team walk out as the stately doors into the King’s chambers open. There he stands, completely exposed and without legal defense. He, the strong and invincible, is then escorted into his Lord’s presence and announced as the King’s “slave.”

He is given no other name.

The formal indictment is read. Every detail of his debt is explained in full going back fifty years. It takes time, a lot of time. At the end, a formal announcement is made of the exact amount he owes the King. The sound hits the slave’s ears but it doesn’t seem to register. He asks incredulously, “Say it again? How much do I owe?” The King himself repeats the amount and demands immediate payment.

The thief turns ashen and nearly collapses. He tries to speak but nothing comes out. His multi-million dollar corporation is crashing down like a house of cards.

He shakes his head. He has no means to repay.

The King then lifts his scepter into the air. Everyone rises. He, by royal decree, commands the police to seize the man, his wife and children and all they own. Everything is to be sold – including the family into slavery – for as long as it takes for repayment to be made in full. 1 He then lowers his scepter.

As the man falls crumpled to the ground.

*       *       *

It’s not every day I get to tell my wife I’m headed to a diner in the city – not the best part of the city either – to have coffee with a convicted murderer.

“You’re doing what?” she said like she didn’t quite hear me.

But that’s what I was doing. Ricky’s work schedule had changed last minute so we reset our meeting to 3:00 instead of noon. He was already sitting at a table and on his cell phone when I got there, smiling ear to ear. His boss was on the other end, pleased with his work, and offering a promotion if he wanted it.

“Starting Monday!” Ricky fist pumped when the call ended.

We talked like two old friends who knew each other better than we did. As the time passed I kept wondering why he wanted to meet with me. Was it just to get to know each other or did he have something in mind? I couldn’t help but thinking it was related to his dad’s death somehow but I didn’t know.

Then suddenly, stopping mid-sentence, he leaned back in his chair and said, “Pastor, I can’t believe you’re here. Not after I sent that letter.”

“It didn’t change things for me.”

“You mean that?”

“Yeah, I do. Plus, I’ve been concerned for you since your father passed.”

He reached for some papers beside him and said, “I want to talk to you about my dad but first I gotta tell you about my girls. I have two daughters. Esther, she’s twenty-two and has two kids. Did you know I was a grandfather?” That ear to ear smile came back as he reached for his wallet to show me pictures. “Then there’s Dora, she’s twenty, and had her first child three months ago.”

He pointed to each one, naming his grandchildren.

I asked if he had a good relationship with them. “Kind of,” he said, tucking his wallet back in his jeans. “But that’s why I want to talk. God has put it on my heart to write my story. I have to. The girls need to know the truth about what I did and what kind of man I am. Every time I try and talk with them…”

He broke, turning his head away, tears quickly filling his eyes.

“They don’t want to hear it, huh?” I said, trying to finish his thought. He shook his head, rubbed his eyes, and started to shuffle through the stack of papers. “I was hoping you could help me do this. Maybe clean it up a bit,” he said. “My grammar stinks. Same with my spelling. My handwriting’s a mess.” He kept going through his papers like he was looking for something in particular.

“Yeah, I’d love to.”

“Here it is,” he said, handing me a couple of pages. “I want you to read this part first and see what you think.” I took it from him and said I would.

“By this point in the story,” he began, “I’ve already done my time for murder. Supposed to serve twenty-five years. Got out in thirteen.”

“You didn’t get a life sentence?”

“The judge ruled it wasn’t pre-meditated. Otherwise, I’d still be there. So, for me, I knew if I did things right, if I did my work, stayed to myself, took classes, and didn’t mess up, I’d be up for parole and get out in half the time. Which I did. A week later, I got a job, got a place to live, and landed on my feet. This time, I promised myself, I’m gonna stay clean. I’m never looking back.”

“Was God in your life at that point?”

He shook his head and said, “I wanted nothing to do with Him.”

“So what happened?”

“A few months after I got out, I went back to drugging. Next thing I know, the cops are banging down my door and arresting me for assault. I was so drugged out I had no memory of what I’d done. They said I beat up my cousin so bad I put him in the hospital. They handcuffed me, took me out of my house, and guess who’s standing outside on the street watching everything?”

“Your girls?”

“You got it. And that’s where this part of the story picks up,” he said, pointing to the pages in my hand. I looked down at his handwriting, took a sip of coffee, and began to read as Ricky sat back in his chair and stared out the window.

I hated you were there seeing all that.

“I didn’t do it!” I screamed at you both. “Do you hear me? I didn’t do it!” And then Esther stepped forward and told me, “Daddy, we were there. We saw it all.”

I couldn’t sleep that night in jail. The look on your faces – you seeing me like that – was too much for me. Inside, I wanted to lie to you like I lie to myself.

“It’s not my fault. My father did this to me, do you understand?”

But that night, seeing you see me, changed all that. It’s like it all came down on me, everything I’ve ever done. My fault. My fault for the drugs. My fault for the things I’ve stolen, the people I’ve hurt, for the women I’ve run over – including your mom  -- my fault, no one else’s. And my fault for the man I killed.

It’s like that night, for the first time, I saw his face again. I saw his wife and two boys sitting in the courtroom at the trial. I saw it all – everyone looking at me.

Like you two were.

Even my grandmother. It’s like I could see her seeing me too -- and doing what she always did, pointing me to God and telling me He could see too.

Like you two were.

It all came down that night. All of it -- my fault -- for the first time in my life.

1 The reader is left with the obvious conclusion that one life time, let alone a thousand life times, could not even begin to pay back the enormity of this man’s debt – and ours.

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John 15:1-11, the Vine and the branches. "Is He everything to you?