As more and more people drown in debt ranging from school loans to mortgage debt and find it harder and harder to start, much less support families, the suggestion that debt be forgiven is reliably attacked by the Greatest Christians of All Time with reliably stupid arguments like “That is an insult to my generation, who paid off our loans!” (just as vaccines are an insult to my generation, who went ahead and died of polio to weed out the weak). Listening to Christians talking about never ever forgiving debt puts me in mind of this little witticism:
It also puts me even more in mind of this story by, you know, the Son of the Living God applicable to every MAGA antichrist worshipper who struts around declaring that he is forgiven all his sins while also telling desperate people in debt up to their eyeballs with student loans “I will not part with one damn penny in taxes to help parasites like you out and if you drown, too bad”:
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Mt 18:23–35)
Picky people will remark that Jesus is talking about the forgiveness of sins, not the forgiveness of economic debt, but I reply that this is a distinction without a difference. Forgive us our sins and forgive us our debts are ideas in Scripture which are, if not synonymous, then such close rhymes that there is no daylight between them, which is precisely why Jesus so habitually uses economic debt as a image of moral debt again and again.
Jesus’ only interest in money in the gospels is in how it can be used to help other people and advance the Kingdom of God. He urges us to be generous with it, telling us, not to get a fat return on loans, but to be sure that we give to people who can never ever repay us. Our material gifts, like our spiritual ones, belong not to us but to those who need them. As St. John Chrysostem puts it in a haunting formulation, “The rich exist for the sake of the poor. The poor exist for the salvation of the rich.”
So when face an opportunity to eliminate grotesque amounts of debt and set young people free to start families and become contributors to the community and not slaves to loan sharks, the response of every Christian should be, “What can we do to make this happen?” not “I’ve got mine. Screw you.” But that is, in fact, the response of the conservative Christian as a rule, even when that screams to non-believers that, as a matter of fact, we do serve Mammon, not God. To such wretched witnesses, demanding “Forgive me my debts, but screw my debtors”, Jesus says:
“He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Lk 16:10–13).
Our excess wealth is not our own. We should be striving to find ways to give it to those who need it, not hoarding it while looking down our noses at those drowning in debt.