“Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.” Matthew 5:25-26
That’s a scary thought! At first, this story could be seen to portray a complete lack of mercy. “You will not be released until you have paid the last penny.” But in fact, it’s an act of great love.
The key here is that Jesus wants us reconciled to Him and to one another. Specifically, He wants all anger, bitterness and resentment removed from our souls. That’s why He says to “Settle with your opponent quickly on the way to court with him.” In other words, apologize and be reconciled before you find yourself before the judgment seat of divine justice.
God’s justice is completely satisfied when we humble ourselves, apologize for our faults, and sincerely seek to make amends. With that, every “penny” is already paid. But what God does not accept is obstinacy. Obstinacy is a serious sin and one that cannot be forgiven unless the obstinacy is let go of. Obstinacy in refusing to admit our fault in a grievance is of the greatest concern. Obstinacy in our refusal to change our ways is also of great concern.
The penalty is that God will exercise His justice upon us until we finally repent. And this is an act of love and mercy on God’s part because His judgment is focused especially upon our sin which is the only thing standing in the way of our love of God and others.
Paying back the last penny can also be seen as an image of Purgatory. Jesus is telling us to change our lives now, to forgive and repent now. If we do not, we will still have to deal with those sins after death, but it’s much better to do so now.
Reflect upon what it is that you have to “settle with your opponent” today. Who is your opponent? Who is the one you have a grievance with today? Pray that God will show you the way to being freed of that burden so that you can enjoy true freedom!
Lord, help me to forgive and to forget. Help me to seek anything that keeps me from fully loving You and all my neighbours. Purify my heart, oh Lord. Jesus, I trust in You.
Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne