The Last Farthing

—Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou have paid the last farthing.

— St. Matthew 5:26

I read in this parable that a man had better make up his mind to be righteous, to be fair, to do what he can to pay what he owes, in any and all the relations of life. Arrange your matters with those who have anything against you; you will have to do it, and that under less easy circumstances than now. Putting it off is of no use. The thing has to be done, and there are means of compelling you.

Consider a dispute wherein a man considers himself in the right. He wants nothing but his rights! I respond to him, it is a very small matter to you whether or not the man gives you your rights; it is life or death to you whether or not you give him his. Whether he pay you what you count his debt or no, you will be compelled to pay him all you owe him. If you owe him a dollar and he owes you a million, you must pay him whether he pays you the million or not. If, owing you love, he gives you hate, you, owing him love, have still to pay it. Love unpaid, a justice not done, a praise withheld, a false judgment passed: these uttermost farthings you must pay him, whether he pays you or not. The same holds with every demand of God: by refusing to pay, the man makes an adversary who will compel him—and that for the man’s own sake. There is a prison, and its doors do not open until entire satisfaction is rendered, the last farthing paid. 


Payment and Justification
by Diane Adams

My oldest son went with me to the store. On the way home, he said, “You know I really got lucky. With my parents I mean. My friend was telling me how his father calls him worthless all the time, has since he was little. He can’t figure out how to live with that. I was shocked. I didn’t know parents did that sort of thing, but I guess it happens more than we think.”

“I guess it does.” I said. “It’s really just self-loathing. Parents sometimes think their kids are extensions of themselves. They see what they think are their own flaws reflected in their kids, and attack them. They don’t really hate their kids, they hate the part of themselves they see there. They fear it. It’s a cycle, passed down from generation to generation, until someone along the way discovers the truth about it.”

It is hard for those of us who understand that a part of the divine lives in every man to sometimes reconcile our beliefs with our own words and actions. If we’re self-aware enough to realize it, those actions that don’t line up with the ideal, such as judging, criticizing, or gossiping, are really a reflection of our own insecurity. Demanding ‘payment’ from others is a roundabout way of demanding it from ourselves. Seeing the flaws in someone else allows us to build up a false sense that we are ‘not as bad’ as so and so, and, therefore, we really are okay. Our existence is justified. Even those of us who are are horrified by someone behaving in this way with their own children are probably guilty of doing such things elsewhere. Everyone is someone’s child.

The more I pay attention to my own attitudes, words and actions, and seek the source of the ones that are not right, the more often a phrase from Franz Kafka’s letters revolves in my mind. He wrote, “There are days when I am convinced that I am unfit for any human relationship.” Here, here! It is so difficult to get it right, even for part of one day! But have them we must, and relationships are great teachers.

I think every angry reaction we have towards others is really a problem we have, at a root level, with our own existence. To put a stop to the cycle of criticism and self elevation, it is necessary to find an unshakable understanding of our own value and right to exist, apart from anything we do or say. Only from such a source can we find the strength to forgive the shadow in our own soul. If we cannot do this, we cannot tolerate the shadow in anyone else. Allowing others that same immutable justification could leave us without the need to condemn anyone at all.

So, to cease demanding payment from others for their moral failings, we must cease to demand it from ourselves. From the core of our failures and frauds, our misconceptions about who we are and who others are, the voice of the Apostle rings down through the ages, through the cycles of abuse and judgement, self-righteousness and vindication, to those of us who would break the chains. And it says, “It is God who justifies. Who is the one that condemns?”