In one small town lived an unusual banker. He was known for taking a chance on people. His bank didn't run on committees or send decisions to Charlotte; he'd make a loan at the lunch counter of the drug store. It didn't matter if you needed $500 or $5,000, he'd listen, give advice, and more often than not, give you the loan.
One day, before the bank opened, two men were waiting outside. The banker recognized them both. He'd loaned Al $5,000 to buy some chicken feed; he'd loaned Joe $50,000 to start a restaurant. Both men had furrowed brows, their heads down.
The banker greeted the men, unlocked the door of the bank and invited them in. Al said, "I need to speak to you, sir, in private if I can." The banker told Joe to wait a minute, invited Al into his office and closed the door.
Al took a seat in front of the desk, looked at the floor and started to speak: "I don't know how to tell you this, but you know that $5,000 I borrowed for chicken feed? Well, I bought the feed, gave it to my chickens, but it must have been poisoned because I went out the next day and all 800 of my chickens were dead. Nobody wants to buy dead poisoned chickens. You know, I was counting on those chickens to grow out. I was going to sell them and then pay you back. But now, I'm busted. I can't pay. I don't know what I'm going to do."
The banker looked at this defeated man and said, "Al, it's OK. I'm going to forgive this loan. You don't have to pay me a dime."
Al looked shocked. "You can't do that. I'll pay you back someday, I promise." Both Al and the banker knew that was a lie, but it made Al feel better to say it.
"Al," said the banker, "don't you worry about it. Take this load off your shoulders. Go home and start over."
Al got up, choked up and hugged the banker. Al said, "I'll never forget this. Never. Thank you."
Al walked out of the office, and the banker motioned for Joe to walk in. He wore the troubled look Al had worn just a few minutes ago.
Joe took the same seat as Al, looked at the floor and started to speak: "I don't know how to tell you this, but you know that $50,000 I borrowed to start my restaurant? Well last night, I got careless with my stove and had a grease fire. It's my own fault; I was being stupid. The whole building burned to the ground. I lost my furnishings, my inventory, my building everything."
The banker said, "Well, now don't worry. Insurance will cover it. You'll rebuild."
Joe dropped his head again. "Well, I don't know how to tell you this, but see a couple of months ago, things got tight, and I let my insurance coverage lapse. I don't have any coverage. I made a bad mistake, and now, I'm busted. I got no way to pay you."
The banker got up from his chair and went around his desk. He took a seat beside Joe and said, "Joe, letting your insurance lapse was a mistake. Not paying attention to your stove was a mistake. Here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to forgive your loan. You don't have to pay it back. Instead, I'm going to be your partner. We'll go in business together and start over. I think together we can build you a better business and a better life."
Joe stammered, "You'd take a chance on me? Even after I screwed up?"
The banker smiled and said, "That's what I do; I invest in people so they can have a better life."
Joe broke into tears. Never in his dreams did he believe he would be given another chance.
After Joe left, the banker went back to his desk with a smile. Another day of grace had begun.
- - -
Jesus told several variations of this story. The point was always the same, though we miss it. The point is not the debt was forgiven. The point is not the gratitude of the two debtors. The point of the story is how rich the banker is, that he can forgive debt, no matter what size.
Jesus is so rich in grace and mercy, he forgives every sin. You cannot overdraw his grace balance.
Before you invest your life, know who is the banker of your soul.
Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church.
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