We Cannot Pay for Our Sins

We Cannot Pay for Our Sins April 6, 2023

California is seriously considering paying reparations to its black citizens, even though California was never a slave state.  A commission appointed by Gov. Newsome to study the matter is all for it.  But there is this:

It could cost California more than $800 billion to compensate Black residents for generations of over-policing, disproportionate incarceration and housing discrimination, economists have told a state panel considering reparations.

The preliminary estimate is more than 2.5 times California’s $300 billion annual budget, and does not include a recommended $1 million per older Black resident for health disparities that have shortened their average life span. Nor does the figure count compensating people for property unjustly taken by the government or devaluing Black businesses, two other harms the task force says the state perpetuated.

The amounts an individual would receive would vary.  The reckoning is $125,000 for those who have been “over-policed” and $223,000 for those who lived in the state from 1933 to 1977 for having been “red-lined” in the real estate market.  And all of this is a low-ball offer.  “An advisory committee in San Francisco has recommended $5 million payouts, as well as guaranteed income of at least $97,000 and personal debt forgiveness for qualifying individuals.”

Even if California could come up with enough money to do this, it would surely also have to pay reparations to native Americans whose land their ancestors stole, to Mexico who used to own California, to Chinese immigrants whose labor was exploited, to Hispanics who have been discriminated against, to Okies during the Depression who were mistreated, to name a few.  Also in need of compensation would be individuals harmed by the influence of Hollywood, Haight-Ashbury, and Silicon Valley.  And the victims of crimes due to “defund the police” policies.  And the list could go on and on and on.

I bring this up, not just to chronicle progressive absurdities, but to make a Lenten connection.  We may feel guilty and want to make up for what we did.  But we cannot pay for our sins.  We owe too much and have too little to pay with.

You know the Parable of the Unjust Servant (Matthew 18: 23-35)?  The servant owed his master 10,000 talents.  According to the Lutheran Study Bible, a talent represented 20 years wages for the average worker of the time.  The servant owed the equivalent of all of the money he would be able to earn for 200,000 years!   But his master, seeing he could not pay, forgave it all.  After which that same servant assaulted and sent to debtor’s prison another servant who owed him 100 denarii, a denarius being one day’s wages.

Jesus is impressing upon us what it means when we pray “forgive us our trespasses [or ‘debts’]  as we forgive those who trespass against us [or ‘debtors’]”:  We who have been forgiven so much must surely forgive the comparatively minor offenses committed against us.

This reminds me of the unofficial Catholic teaching heavily pushed during the sale of indulgences that every sin we commit–including those that have been confessed and absolved–must be paid for by spending three years in Purgatory.  Committing just one sin a day for a year would mean 1,095 years in purgatorial fire.  And woe to you if you lived a long life.

That’s the burden Christians were under when Luther recovered the good news that Jesus has paid it all, “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own” (Small Catechism, 2nd article of the Creed;  cf. 1 Peter 1:18-19).

That’s what Holy Week is all about.


Image by 3D Animation Production Company from Pixabay 

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