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Tue, Nov 30, 2021

Debt image from Pixaby

It was not too long ago that plastic money was something we only watched in movies. We would disparagingly laugh at Americans; how they rob Peter on one credit card to pay Paul on the other. It turns out that the joke is on us. Who would have known how (un)healthy our appetite for digital loans would turn out to be?

As an accountant (in a past life), I have an advanced degree (University of Experience) in dealing with debt; corporate debt – not personal. All the misdeeds of an organization finally show up at the bottom line, and it’s the numbers people who are left to ‘handle.’ I spent many a night plotting how to keep the wolf at bay. We had an admin assistant to filter the calls in one organization before the mobile phone era. I would later learn to use that beautiful phone app called the Truecaller that gives you a heads up on which of your creditors is on the other side as I perfected the fine art of straddling that grey area of lying without telling a lie.

Between credit cards, which are offered to people with as low a monthly income as ten thousand Kenya shillings (USD 100), to the ubiquitous fuliza – that very ‘generous’ offer of an overdraft by your telco as a way to help you sort out your bills, the M-Shwari’s (digital loans), our chamas (savings groups), and mortgages – we are no stranger to debt. The topic of our national debt (Kenya) is quite emotive – who knows how many generations we have mortgaged so far? We hear that China has taken up our next-door neighbor’s (Uganda) airport on account of loan default.

A story is told of a guy who was indebted to his ears. I am sure he (like some of us) entertained fantasies of the bank going up in flames, turning the records into ashes, or hackers doing their thing and messing up the entire server, or being named in the will of a rich uncle. This guy had run up a debt of 10,000 talents – anywhere between $12 million and $1 billion at today’s going rate. The figure represents an unpayable debt.

Goodness, how on earth did he accumulate that? We can fill in the blanks; we know how we get there – that property we hope to offload, the better paying job we just know is coming, the deal we hope to clinch, the guy who owes us and has promised this time he will pay. Meanwhile, we continue to pour debt from one jar into the other, ignoring the calls, changing or operating multiple telephone numbers. This guy must have known he could never be able to repay this debt and lived with the tick-tock sound taking him closer and closer to the day it will all catch up with him.

When it did, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. We all know the chill that goes down our spine at the mention of auctioneers. The borrower is indeed a slave to the lender, as biblical wisdom warns.

This story is given to illustrate the debt of our sin. We all agree – we are not perfect. But the story shows it’s more than that. It’s more than a foible here or a blind spot there. We are sinners, with a debt bigger than that of Africa to China – if it’s called up, we cannot pay. Financial debt can feel challenging and even overwhelming. However, spiritual debt is much more dangerous because its impact is eternal.

Some years ago, the higher education loans board offered an amnesty to those who had defaulted on their student loans – they offered to waive all the interest on condition one repaid the principle in full. I took up that opportunity at the speed at which the wisdom of proverbs advises those trapped in debt, “Save yourself like a gazelle escaping from a hunter, like a bird fleeing from a net.”

The guy who owed the ‘unpayable’ debt of 10,000 talents did the only thing he could do – he fell at the feet of his creditor, ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ Whom was he kidding? But amazingly, the master took pity on him, canceled the debt, and let him go. Pinch me, somebody! If this is a dream, I don’t want ever to wake up! It was a dream, beyond his wildest expectation, come true.

This too good to be true story – is actually true. Like it or not…each of us owes our master a debt that we cannot pay. The day of reckoning is coming. Again to think we can pay this debt is more ridiculous than that servant’s plea. The only way out is mercy. The good news is that we too can receive mercy. Our debt has been ‘paid in full’! Rather than try to play hide and seek, put aside tiny savings (our good deeds) to pay an impossible debt – we can take up the forgiveness (like we rushed to take up the amnesty) from the only one who has authority to forgive sin. Jesus has the authority to forgive sin and free us from the impossible debt of trying to earn our right standing with God.

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