One of the worst story endings I’ve ever read was served up to me last year in a long-awaited novel.
I had high hopes, but when I read the final pages, I thought, “Pfffft! That’s ridiculous. That would never happen.” One element of the ending was so unbelievable that I felt irritated.
I’ve never written a novel, and I know storytelling requires a boatload of creativity and mental stamina, So the fact that I had the gall to criticize probably says more about me than this author. But in any case, I was sorely disappointed.
Did the author’s deadline creep up too quickly?
Was the author simply trying to please a certain segment of readers?
Why did the editor allow it?
A thousand factors might have influenced it, but this storyteller wasn’t the first to get eye-rolls when the conclusion seemed far-fetched.
This week, I was reading a Bible story, and it occurred to me that the the original audience must have had the same kind of reaction. Pfft! That would never happen.
If we’d heard that same story on the news this week, it might have sounded like this:
Authorities responded to an altercation between two men in the 700 block of South Palace Street. Witnesses said 43-year-old Sam Swindel approached his former coworker, Bill Bower, with raised fists. Shouting ensued.
A friend of the victim stated, “The guy was shouting in Bill’s face, and he was like, ‘You owe me for that burger I bought you last week.’ He shoved Bill to the ground, and Bill was on his hands and knees saying, ‘I’m gonna pay you back, but I don’t have cash, man!”
When authorities arrived, Swindel had Bower by the neck, and bystanders were attempting to separate the two men.
Swindel was a long-time employee of King’s Corporation. Executives at the company told police they recently discovered $30 million of unapproved expenses charged by Swindel over the last three decades.
When asked how such an amount had gone undetected, executives declined to comment.
Lawyers for the CEO and investors first demanded that Swindel be fired and sentenced to life in prison. His garnished prison wages were to be paid to King’s Corporation. Swindel pled guilty but asked to be acquitted.
Because of the perennial success of King’s Corporation, and because lawyers previously believed Swindel posed no threat to society, the CEO and King’s Corporation investors dropped all charges. After the boardroom confrontation, Swindel left the building of his own accord.
With neither debt nor jail time hanging over his head, authorities are still investigating the motive behind his violent attack on his former coworker.
In a statement to the media, the chief investigation officer confessed, “We have no idea what Mr. Swindel’s motives were.”
One bystander speculated, “Maybe he just wanted a burger.”Fake News by Fake Reporter, Shauna Letellier
If that isn’t a confounding ending, I don’t know what is. And guess who told that story?
You’ve probably read the first-century version in Matthew 18, which my Bible calls “The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.”
Those first-century listeners must have been shaking their heads, saying, “Pfft! That would never happen.”
But in a spiritual sense, it happens every day.
When Peter asked how many times he was required to forgive his brother, Jesus answered with the story of The Unforgiving Servant.
I sometimes wonder if Peter was literally talking about Andrew. They were business partners and ministry partners. A quick glance around your community will tell you that relationships are often sacrificed on the altars of business and ministry. Was Peter was sick of dealing with Andrew. Did he want Jesus’ permission to write him off? Or was there another Christian brother that was grating on Peter’s last skinny nerve?
While Jesus’ math gave Peter a number (70 x 7 = 490), the absurdity of counting forgiveness implies that Jesus was saying, “Peter, don’t waste your time keeping track of your own benevolence. It doesn’t end well.’”
Jesus told this same story repeatedly, but the settings were different, and the endings are always somewhat obscured.
The Prodigal Son humbled himself and fled from his foolishness. His Benevolent Father threw a party upon his return. What became of the Prodigal after the party? How did he treat his father? How did he handle his chapped brother?
A half-dead man lying on the side of the Jericho Road received emergency medical attention and two months of food and lodging from someone he hated. How did he treat his enemy after he was discharged?
Do you see yourself in any of these stories?
I see myself slumped over that board room table, my heart throbbing and my face flaming with embarrassment. I am responsible, and I can never repay. I may promise the impossible, “I will pay you back!’ but everyone present sees my desperate delusion.
I need mercy.
Whether it’s three decades of embezzlement, short-sighted unforgiveness, or self-righteous pride, our benevolent Savior suffered our sentence and canceled our debt when he died in our place.
But the true story of redemption doesn’t end there.
When the charges are dropped, and the irreconcilable ledger sheets are shredded, what’s my next move?
Let’s lose track of our own goodness and keep track of God’s goodness to us in Christ. His mercy has resolved the impossible conflict, and his grace guarantees eternity. The time in-between is for demonstrating how mercy frees us from keeping track, and grace propels us to forgive as we have been forgiven. And that makes for a satisfying end to the story.