The Last Penny.
“I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”
In Matthew’s gospel story, a man was being taken to court by his adversary (def: “One’s opponent in a contest, conflict or dispute”). The guy was at risk for being tossed into prison unless he settled matters quickly, paid what he owed.
Being a law abiding citizen, it would be easy for me to shrug indifference. I mean, I drive past police headquarters – minding the posted speed, of course – without so much as a heart flutter of concern, because, well, I’m just not doing anything that requires handcuffs, booking, and time in a prison cell. I am free in Christ (see July 3 post, The Liberty Bell That Still Rings), my eternity secure. However, that doesn’t come with a guarantee that I won’t experience jail time between now and then.
My eyes zeroed in on the text a bit more. ‘…you will not get out…’ I gazed upward. “Not get out of…?”
No time for that.
Settle matters quickly. Keep a clear conscience. Pay the last penny.
In a woman’s Bible study years ago, we were challenged to consider our relationships and ask God to reveal any unfinished business. Were there people – even just one – I had offended? Someone from whom I needed to ask forgiveness? I did the mental rol-a-dex thing, flipping through contacts, waiting to see if the Spirit poked a gentle finger to my chest. Hoping He wouldn’t. But He did.
“You know who I’m talking about, don’t you?”
I heard the slam of a cell door, the Lord’s arms grasping the metal bars on the other side, but eyes blazing compassion. “Pay that last penny you owe. I desire to release you.” He glanced over His mighty shoulders. “The harvest is plentiful, yet the workers are few.”
Though forgiven by God through the blood of Jesus, I knew there wasn’t peace between this person and me. I had, indeed, said things with intent to harm. I had chosen to view this person as my adversary and was guilty of harboring bitterness. In essence, I had chosen time in the slammer.
I owed one last penny.
So I prayed for humility, wrote a simple letter requesting pure and unadulterated forgiveness. The Spirit breathed life onto the page. And the words were well received, with an unexpected request for the same. However, had my last penny offering been met with suspicion, hard-heartedness, refusal to grant forgiveness, well, I had paid what I owed, my wallet emptied. I was free to step past the creaking prison door when it swung open.
As for crimes committed by the so-called adversary? Well, that’s not my penny to pay.
In this tricky business of relationships (basically, sinners trying to play nicely with other sinners), I’ve attempted to avoid keeping a coin collection of pennies owed to others. Those little copper-plated, zinc darlings only serve to weigh my spiritual wallet – and my conscience – down.
I’ve attempted to pay what I owe quickly, so that as I stand before the Judge, He’ll smile His grace on me, and fill my spirit full of His riches in Christ Jesus.
The tenth step of The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (http://www.aa.org/assets/en_US/smf-121_en.pdf) speaks to this same biblical truth:
“Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”
Do you owe someone a penny? Pay it promptly. The harvest is plentiful.