Forgive Us Our Trespasses

Recent conversations and a few newspaper articles about the death of Ted Kennedy have revealed the continuing animosity toward Kennedy with regard to the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. This has highlighted to me the tendency that we often have to think and act in a personal way toward public figures. This is true of politicians, celebrities, and notorious criminals, and those we might think fit into the triple overlap of these categories (if it were a Venn diagram, they would be in the middle).

With elected politicians, we have a responsibility to call them to account for their actions and decide whether they should continue to represent us – by impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors, and by voting against them in the next election for lesser reasons. Except for citizens of Massachusetts, this is where unforgiveness toward Ted Kennedy falls short. Though he was nationally known, he did not represent the nation. He was elected by the people of Massachusetts and it was their decision, for better or worse, to return him seven times to the United States Senate.

The idea of forgiving or not forgiving public figures not personally known to us is foreign to any concept in the scriptures. Jesus said we should pray, asking the Father to “forgive our tresspasses and we forgive those who trespass against us,” and said further said, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” It’s a personal thing.

Not forgiving Ted Kennedy is about as pointless as the politicians on Capitol Hill who apologised last summer and this summer for something they didn’t do. In July of last year, the U.S. House of Represenatives apologised for slavery and racial segregation. The Senate did the same thing in June of this year with almost identical language.

This is ridiculous for a number of reasons. First of all, neither the House nor the Senate ever legalised slavery. Slavery has always existed. (It still exists today, even in the US, but that is a subject for a future post.)

Admittedly, they did vote to approve the Corwin Amendment which would have prohibited any other Amendment to the Constitution allowing the federal government to interfere with slavery. (Congressmes and Senators from the seven Deep South states did not vote for the Corwin Amendment, as they were already in the process of seceding – it was a Northern proposed amendment to preserve slavery.) Despite their apology 148 years later, that amendment is still pending as it was only ratified by the state legislatures of Ohio, Maryland, and Illinois.

The only slaves that could be said to have been owned by the United States itself were those used by the Union armies in the Recent Unpleasantness. Not the freedmen soldiers that everyone hears about, but the still enslaved laborers. (I can’t imagine why those Yankee-authored history books fail to mention this.) Neither the House nor Senate mentioned the Corwin Amendment or the use of slave labor by the bluecoats and I don’t think either body had either issue in mind.

On the other hand, Congress at times voted to restrict slavery’s extenstion into certain territories. It then voted to abolish slavery through the 13th Amendment. Likewise it passed the 14th and 15th Amendments to send to the states for ratification. It passed various Civil Rights Acts. So even if it could apologise, there is nothing to apologise for.

But what really angers me about both House Resolution 194 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 26 is that both purport to apologise on my behalf. “The Congress…apologizes to African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow laws…” This may surprise some people, but I have never owned a single African-American slave. I would go so far as to suggest that no living American citizen has ever owned a single African-American slave. Having been born less than four months before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 came into effect, I can also assure readers that I have never promulgated or enforced any Jim Crow laws. (But then again, neither has the US Congress, in its present, or any previous, incarnation, as Jim Crow laws were state laws.)

I have lots of ancestors who owned slaves. Lots of slaves. Just for the record, I do not apologise for them either. I couldn’t even if I wanted to do so.

I do admit to calling another 2nd grader “nigger” in 1971. I will not even offer the excuse that my erstwhile friend Scott encouraged me to do it. I was beaten soundly about the buttocks by the school principal and had to apologise, so I think I have paid my debt. (I hope that any of my friends who haven’t forgiven Ted Kennedy for the Chappaquiddick incident will not also refuse to forgive me for something that happened two years after.) However, I do not believe the US Congress needs to apologise for this on my behalf.

How Much Do Have When You Hold A Grudge?

On Forgiveness Sunday, I thought it appropriate to relate something from a lesson this week. My Year 8s are learning about some of the parables of Jesus. This week we were looking at the parable of the unforgiving servant.

With my first couple of groups I decided to translate the 10,000 talents owed by the first servant with the 100 denarii owed to him by the second. I didn’t it on the fly without any regard for accuracy, so I just used a pound of gold for a talent and an ounce of silver for a denarius. I guessed the price of gold at about £600/ounce and silver at £10 an ounce.

Since that yields a result of £72,000,000 for the first debt and £1000 for the second, I thought that made the point well enough. The kids got the idea.

With my last group on Friday, I decided to be a bit more accurate. I found that gold was trading at £482 per ounce. That’s £5784 per troy pound. Only a talent is a lot more than a pound. I didn’t realise that estimations vary greatly, so I just went with the first conversion I found online. This is happening live in a classroom after all. By this conversion, a talent is equal to 91 troy pounds (rounding down the decimal places). That’s £526,344 per talent or a debt of £5,263,440,000. This is based on a talent being roughly equal to 34kg. Some estimates for the equivalent range as high as 60kg.

A denarius did not contain an ounce of silver. Because it was an actual coin of which there are existing examples, rather than a variable weight, it is much easier to calculate. A denarius contained 1/10 of a troy ounce of silver. The price of silver is current soaring at about $20 an ounce (my £10 an ounce guess was pretty good!), so a denarius contains about $2 or £1 of silver. Thus, 100 denarii is the equivalent of about £100.

Or if we calculate it based on the denarius as the daily wage of an unskilled labourer, we can compare it to the minimum wage. This is currently £5.52/hour in the UK. Multiply this by 8 hours and you get £44.16 a day. Multiply this by 100 and the second man’s debt is the equivalent of £4,416. The difference between £100 and £4,416 is insignificant when compared to £5.26 billion. (Or as much as £9.29 billion [$18.58 billion] for 60kg talents!)

How inconsequential and trivial are the offenses against us? Do we make them seem like they matter? Do we hold a grudge? If we do, we have not compared them to the forgiveness of God.

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.

Is unforgiveness really worth it?