Friday, May 01, 2015

Following the leader

The parable begins with a king acting in a way quite uncharacteristic of any agrarian ruler. He forgives a debt of unimaginable proportions. But why? First, the king presides over subjects who are crippled by debt and who, therefore, in their inability to pay tribute and taxes frustrate his ability to rule. Second, the king needed his servant for the efficient administration of his kingdom. To throw the servant in jail would bung up the works, so to speak, since the servant was not easily replaceable. So, as J. Duncan M. Derrett has noted, “The release was for the good of the kingdom.” It was but the first in a series of actions whose purpose was to “lighten the burdens of the provinces” and “oil all the wheels” for the well-being of the entire kingdom. The great act of debt forgiveness was meant to initiate further acts of forgiveness of debt. The king has made it a point of honor, and he expects the servant to understand. He has broken the cycle of ruthless exploitation and extraction, and what the patron has done, the client must do. But the servant fails to imitate his master and instead engages in what William Herzog II has called the tactics of a typical powerful bureaucrat. In doing so, he makes the king look like a fool, or worse, like a weak and gullible ruler without power over the behavior of his subjects. In other words, in not acting as his master has done, the servant disgraces his patron and brings his name into disrepute and thus backs the king into a corner. Shades of not hallowing the ruler’s name!—The Disciples’ Prayer, pages 131–32

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