Picture the scene. Tyrion Lannister, as played by Peter Dinklage, is sitting on a loveseat dealing with a call from a debt collector trying to start a payment for Tyrion’s student debt from graduate studies in political science from the University of Westeros. Tyrion Lannister, of course, is jobless after losing the position of Hand of the King, his father is not being generous with an allowance, and the family’s mines have run dry so there is no more Lannister gold, and the banks of Braavos are no longer willing to extend him any credit because his Fico score is too low. What is a Lannister to do? Unable to do anything else, he barks at the debt collector that a Lannister always pays his debts, and then hangs up the phone, infuriated. Given that this seems to be an obvious and humorous skit, I’m surprised that it has not been milked for its full comic potential yet. The juxtaposition of Game of Thrones with the real-life difficulties of indebtedness would seem to be a vein full of comedy, even if that comedy can be a bit grim at times.
For those not familiar with the plot of the television series Game of Thrones or the series of novels that it is based on written by George R.R. Martin, the Lannisters are one of the high noble families whose scions, as a result of an incestuous relationship between twins where the official father was King Robert, but the real father was the queen’s brother, are ruling over the fragmented and divided kingdom of Westeros. The Lannisters are known to have gotten their power as a result of the wealthy gold mines in their land, which has allowed them to build up significant power. Of course, as the novels progress, the mines have died out and the Lannisters are living on the unearned reputation of their past, able to draw upon credit that they simply cannot bear with their present resources. And if the Lannisters are suddenly cash poor, they are still as prickly as Southern hotspurs, willing to kill even their relatives if their honor is crossed.
When we think of paying debts, we are usually thinking of the sort of debts that one acquires in going to college, or buying a house or a car. We may also think of the debts of honor owed because of obligations to provide a stipend to the elderly as a result of their long decades of hard work, or the money that cities, states, and nations owe to various creditors and are often unable to repay or even to service. These are not the only kind of debts we need to be aware of, because in our lives we must be constantly aware of the debts that we accrue as a result of our behavior towards others, and which we are creditors for as a result of the behavior of others towards us. As it is written in Matthew 18:21-35: “Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.””
There are a lot of lessons we can learn from this passage, which reminds us not to harden our hearts against others and to be aware that the grace we have all been given by God for the forgiveness of sins far exceeds the grace that we are asked to give to anyone . Yet while we are often very aware of the offenses committed against us, it is hard for us to understand how to live so that we minimize the offenses and debts that are charged to our accounts. In the worst cases, two parties may offend each other greatly while doing their best to be forbearing and patient with others, to the point where great offenses are built up. As someone who hates to offend others, it deeply bothers me when others are upset by my behavior. It also bothers me when others are harsh towards me but blind about their own offenses, especially if they are unwilling to seek a mutual forgiveness of debts. It is easy for us to seek to repay the debts of the offenses others have committed against us by being as vengeful as a Lannister, but we are called to a better way. How do we live in such a way that others are encouraged to seek our forgiveness, while also treating us with the respect and honor we are due?
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