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The Parable of the Two Debtors

Jesus once told a parable about two debtors. The first debtor owed the king 10,000 talents, but when the time came to pay up, he didn’t have the ability to. The king commanded that this debtor’s whole family and property were to be sold to pay the debt. But when the servant pleaded for more time to pay, the king had compassion and forgave the entire debt. Nice king.

A little later, this same debtor went out to find a man who owed him money. He took him by the throat and demanded payment for the 100 pence he was owed. This man begged for more time to pay but was instead thrown into prison.

Well the king found out about all this and wasn’t too happy, he delivered this debtor over to “tormenters” until he was able to pay everything he owed.

How much?

So that’s the story, but it doesn’t really hit home unless you have an idea of what kinds of monetary sums we are dealing with here.

The second debtor owed the first one 100 pence. Back then, 1 pence was about a day’s wage or roughly $180 in today’s dollars (based on the median U.S. household income of $46,326). So he owed the first debtor about $18,000 dollars in today’s money. That’s not exactly a small sum, if someone owed you that much money you would definitely feel justified in pursuing legal action to get it back.

So let’s look at the first man who owed 10,000 talents of gold. As of today (May 19, 2016) an ounce of gold is $1,255.55 and 1 pound of gold would be $20,088.8. So with that, let’s do some math. 1 talent is about 75 pounds, so 1 talent of gold is about $1,506,660! But our friend here owed 10,000 talents which is about $15.06 billion dollars in today’s money.

Man, that’s some crazy debt for one person! Back then, who had 10,000 of anything? It’s pretty much like Jesus was saying, “The first man owed the king a zillion gazillion dollars.” Something so astronomical that it would be humanly impossible to pay back.

I think when you understand the sums involved, it gives you a little more perspective on the point Jesus was trying to make. We all owe God a debt so large and incomprehensible that he is willing to forgive us for, but how many of us will forgive the smaller debts we feel that we are owed?

I think it’s interesting that Jesus didn’t say the second debtor only owed a single penny, instead it was a pretty substantial sum that would hurt anyone to lose; it certainly wouldn’t be easy.

When we are asked to forgive, God doesn’t downplay the difficulty of the task. Instead, he hopes that by liberating us, we will find that same compassion within ourselves to do the same for others.

  • Richard J. Nobbe III

    Exactly – The scriptures always speak in extremes, and the Savior came as a teacher to teach his people in senarios that they would be likely to understand. I like how you say in those days it is hard to imagine anyone owning 10,000 of anything!

    There are so many examples of this from the Savior Himself. 70 times 7 is a good example. And hopefully we, just like the disciples of Christ in former times, would get the principle. If The Savior can and will forgive us EVERYTHING, what pound of flesh will we forgive our debtors?

    But just like those numbers (7 and 70) are symbolic, is there anything symbolic about the number 10,000?

    • oneclimbs

      I may be wrong about this, but I’ve read from some scholar that some cases when they said 10,000 back then, it just mean a LOT. Speaking of extremes, I think there’s a great deal of hyperbole going on in the scriptures. Counting up to 10,000 would probably take around 3 hours so I think when you got to the larger numbers there was some estimating going on.

      It’s interesting to see this in the Book of Mormon as Mormon is recounting the losses of particular armies and their captains. He laments the loss of so and so and his ten thousand, etc. I don’t think there were exactly 10,000 to the man.

      • Richard J. Nobbe III

        Now THAT is interesting…