In today's Gospel (Matthew 18:21 - 19:1) the Lord uses an example of two men who are in debt and how their creditor reacts to the situation. The first man owes money and, when the master demands payment, he pleads for more time. This is given to him. Leaving that meeting, this first man encounters someone who owes him money. Naturally he sees this as an opportunity to get some of the money he owes in order to pay back the master, and so he demands that the second man make good on the debt. The second man pleads for more time, just as the first man did. The first man, however, despite being given more time by his master, does not extend the debt for this second man. Instead, he has him jailed for failure to pay.
Now when we examine this example, we can understand that, given the terms of the agreement, both men were legally bound to pay the debt in the time that was specified in the agreement. The master, despite his legal right to take any and all measures to collect his money (including selling the servant, his family and all his possessions), takes the path of patience and mercy, realizing that it would be better for all if he gave the servant more time to repay the debt.
That first servant however, goes to the full extent of the law, having his fellow servant jailed for failure to pay. It is probable that he did this as a lesson to others who owed him money, hoping that it would motivate them to repay him quickly so that he could clear his debt with the master.He forgets the example shown by the master and fails to look beyond the letter of the agreement and live by the law of love.
In a very practical way, Jesus is trying to move people from the old "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" way of dealing with others, to a do unto others" way of living. With more and more of us concerned about finances, it also is a lesson in priorities. When money is tight and we find ourselves in over our heads, sometimes we can forget that the most important thing we possess is our integrity. If we call ourselves followers of Christ, we have to live that way, even when times are tough. Indeed, it is the very essence of a Christian to hold fast to our determination to live according to the example of Christ especially when times are tough. Anyone can be a good Christian when life is easy. But when life is difficult, that is where you discover the true disciples. We will not always do it perfectly (just look at how the apostles denied, ran away, cowered in the upper room) but we have to keep trying. Remember, our original debt was paid by Christ on the cross. Now we are called to reach out to those who are looking to us for forgiveness, understanding, patience, assistance. After all, it is no fun being in debt, especially when eternity is in the balance!