[Note: Parts one and two may be found in the links included.]
We asked a question earlier as to what is obligated of people when it comes to other people, and we answered that question via logic and reasoning dealing with reciprocity, ending with a scripture that discussed God having no partiality. How does the scripture answer the question of the obligation of reciprocity, though? We may first begin with what seems like an obvious statement about the importance of justice to God, found in Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” That is, in a nutshell, what is required of us, justice, mercy, and humility. It might be noted that these three qualities are all in dangerously short supply at present, but that is what is required of us by God.
When we think of reciprocity as a divine requirement of justice and as also being involved in the mercy that God has for us (or not), it is well worth pausing for a bit to consider why it is that the Gospels hammer home the need for reciprocity so much. When Jesus answers the question about the greatest commandment, the issue of reciprocity comes up in Matthew 22:34-40: “ But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”” Reciprocity, loving your neighbor as yourself–doing unto others what you would have others do unto you and not doing unto others what you would not have others do unto you–is one of the two pegs by which the entire law and prophets hang.
Similarly, in the Sermon on the Mount, reciprocity comes up repeatedly as the standard by which human beings will be judged. In the so-called Model Prayer, reciprocity comes up three times in Matthew 6:9-15: “ In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” If we forgive the debts that others owe against us, God will forgive our debts, and if we will forgive others their trespasses against us, God will forgive us for our trespasses against God and others. But if we are not merciful, we will not obtain mercy. Similarly, Matthew 7:1-2 begins with two references to reciprocal standards of judgment: ““Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” Those who think that before God they can set up double standards that only apply to others and not to themselves in the same measure are seriously mistaken.
One of the parables of Jesus Christ, about the unmerciful servant, ought to be studied closely in our dark times. Matthew 18:21-35 reads: “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.””
I’m not sure about you, dear reader, but the thought of being delivered to the torturers for an impossibly massive debt simply because I would not pay a comparatively miniscule amount that someone else owes me is not an appealing thought. In our present day and age, there are many people who want to hold threats of violence and theft over the heads of others for debts that they do not even owe, demanding reparations for historical wrongs from people who were not in any way to blame for what happened in the past, completely clueless to their own injustice and their own wrongs against God and other people in the process, and this parable is for such unmerciful people who think that they are owed a great deal by others and are not in any way conscious of the immense debt that they owe God and those whom they treat unjustly. If you refuse to give the same graciousness and mercy to others that God has given to you, God will give you reciprocity in the harsh justice that you mete out to others. And you will not like it.