Monday, August 08, 2005

Jimmy the Boss, Guido, and Little Ray

Pete came to JC and asked, “Lord, how much slack do I cut my brother and let him backstab me over and over? The dude’s pushed my buttons seven times already, ain’t that enough?" JC took a breath and told him, "You ain’t even close, little bro, try it another 500 times. Let me tell you what it’s like, man, if you’re gonna walk this walk. There was a man named Jimmy the Boss and he was out collecting his accounts. Guido had a meeting with the Boss, and he was nervous, because he owed the Boss some serious coin: close to 100 grand, and he couldn’t pay. He’d been ducking him for a while, but now it was crunch-time. He was trying to figure out a way to ask the Boss for a little time, but even then, he knew the debt was too large.
When the Boss showed up, Guido was pretty edgy, because the Boss had some of the other family with him. “Let’s take a little ride,” said one of the Boss’s men, holding open the limo’s door. Guido got in, and as the door shut behind him, the limo took off. There he was, face to face with the Boss, who was preparing to deal with one of his most faithful men in his organization.
“So whatabout the cash, Guido? It’s over a year’s pay for you. Since you can’t pay, you know what I gotta do. It’s strictly business, Guido, it’s not personal.” The Boss ordered cement shoes for Guido, and then to have his family picked up to settle the debt. Guido fell on his knees, kissed the Boss’s ring and begged, “Give me a little more time, Boss, and I’ll pay every dime. You know I’m good for it.”
Jimmy the Boss was soft on Guido, so he told his boys to let him go, and then told Guido. “Fugetaboudit…someday I may need to ask a favor of you.” So Guido split and found Little Ray Smalls, who owed him about fifty bucks. He knocked Little Ray in the knees and said, “Pay up, you loser!” Little Ray fell on the ground, kissed Guido’s hand and begged for mercy, just as Guido had done. But he would not have mercy and ordered his boys to break his fingers until he could pay his debt. When his boys saw what he was doing, they went and ratted Guido out to Jimmy the Boss.
So the Boss had Guido picked up again, and said, “You ain’t right, Guido, I cut you slack because you showed me respect, and this is what you do to Little Ray? The Boss cut Guido off right there and ordered his men to work him over until he paid back all that was due.
That’s how it is, Pete. You ain’t gonna get no slack if you can’t cut your brother no slack."
(Paraphrased, Matthew 18:21-35)

This is a story that centers on three things: forgiveness, mercy, and remembering where we came from. I wonder why Peter came and asked this question of Jesus. What was going on with him? Who had offended him? Or, was it just a hypothetical question? But Jesus went to the heart of the matter quickly, telling Peter, the kingdom of heaven is like this…
The story itself is a paradox. Why, we wonder, does a man who has just been forgiven of a huge debt, turn right around and not show mercy from someone who used the same course of begging for mercy as he did, and for a much smaller amount? Looking at it from the third person, we may even be indignant and judgmental of this servant. Yet, in reality, many times we are guilty of doing this very thing. We tend to want judgment for others and mercy for ourselves.
We forget we were once lost, apart from God, and had to ask forgiveness and mercy. We are offended by the lost people around us, and even worse, our Christian brothers and sisters. It’s been said that the “Army of God” is the only army that regularly shoots its own soldiers. The bickering and backbiting in the church is a disgrace, and it’s no wonder that the world wonders where the hope is. It’s interesting that Peter asked about forgiving a “brother” who offended him.
The principle of “seventy times seven” is not a formula to give us a limit on the number of times someone can offend us before we don’t have to any more. Forgiveness, by its nature means we no longer hold the offense against the offender any longer. So, in a sense, technically, it is as if he had never sinned or offended us. Isn’t that how God handles our sin when we confess and ask for mercy?
I think though, that the master in this story probably was wise enough to not ever trust the servant with such a large account again, and might not have allowed further credit unwisely, unless he was again willing to lose it all. We need to exercise wisdom in forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean we just blindly trust the offender again, at least not until the offender can rebuild trust. In other words, we may forgive an abuser, but not allow that person back to cause more abuse. That’s another issue.
God’s grace was enough to forgive my sin, as great as it has been. Who am I to hold judgment on another for something less than I did to offend God?

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