Parable of the Penny

[I wrote this simple parable to illustrate some important points at church. It’s a “choose your own adventure” parable with two possible endings…]

You have borrowed a large amount of money from a friend, which you promise to pay back, but not anytime soon, since you are struggling to make ends meet. Your friend trusts you and is willing to wait. Time goes by and you are still not able to pay back the loan. After three years of scrimping, you approach a brother for help. “I don’t know how or when I will be able to pay my friend back and I feel terrible being in their debt. It’s really put a strain on our relationship.”

Your brother is wealthy and says, “I will pay the debt for you, but only on these terms. You must personally deliver to me a penny every day until the debt is paid in full.” “Only one penny a day?” you exclaim, “but even if I pay you a penny every day of the rest of my life, I will never be able to pay the debt in full.” “And that is okay,” says your wealthy brother, “As long as I get to see you each day when you pay your penny.” You are elated and agree to the terms. In short order, the wealthy brother pays your large debt you find yourself once again on good terms with your friend. You heave a huge sigh of relief as you fall asleep that night.

The next morning, before work, you get up early to walk a penny over to your brother’s house. You hand him your penny and your wealthy brother gives you a receipt in exchange with a red stamp of approval. “Thank you, he says, “you are in good standing with me. Your debt is paid in full.” You smile and leave to go about building your life, hopeful for a better future.

A few days later, you encounter a risky business situation and decide to go for it. Unfortunately, the deal goes south and you find yourself in debt again for another large sum of money. You return to your brother, distraught and embarrassed. He smiles and says, “I will pay that debt as well. Just keep walking your penny over to me every day.”

For the next several mornings, before work, you get up early to walk the penny over. You tell him all about small-, medium-, and large-size debts that you have incurred in the course of your business dealings, and which must be paid. And every morning, before you walk back, your wealthy brother puts a stamp of approval on your receipt, and says, “Thank you, you are still in good standing with me. Your debts are paid in full.”

After a a few months, you get tired of trudging over to your brother’s house to deliver the penny. It seems like such a waste of energy. You have stacks of receipts with those stamps of approval, ample proof that you have made a good effort. Missing one day wouldn’t hurt, would it? So you become just a little lazy and miss a day, here and there. Over time, one day becomes two becomes three becomes four. You justify yourself, “I’ll pay all of these pennies at the end of the week and it will be just fine.” So at the end of each week, you pay your seven pennies. Your brother stamps your receipt but tells you how much he missed your company during the week. You shrug your shoulders and plunge into another productive week.

Choose your own parable ending. Turn to page 20 if you will continue the weekly payments. Turn to page 48 if you decide to take up daily payments again.

Ending 1:
Business is going well for you and prospects for the future are looking up. For awhile, you make regular weekly payments and try to ignore the look in your brother’s eyes as you grab the stamped receipt and run off to your business. After awhile, with business going so well, you start to believe that you will be able to pay off your brother in full and will never need to make the daily visits again. You save up your pennies for a large payment at the end of the year.

The end of the year arrives and you make the short walk to your brother’s house on Christmas eve. He is delighted to see you and accepts your payment. He hands you a stamped receipt. He invites you to use the receipt as an entrance to the New Year banquet your father will be hosting and pleads with you to pay on a daily basis, as previously agreed.

You walk home, ashamed. You are in good standing with your brother, but you feel terrible for not having held up your end of the bargain. You throw the receipt away, return to your home empty-handed, and never visit your brother again.

Ending 2:
The next day, you remember the twinkle in your brother’s eyes and decide to make the daily payment. It doesn’t take long. You’re always surprised at how pleasant these visits are. You drop off the penny, smile at your brother, and return to your home to carefully file the receipt. Your day goes well and you feel good about yourself for keeping your end of the bargain. You go to sleep early and wake up the next morning to pay your penny.

That morning you have a good laugh with your brother and he sends you on your way with a light in your heart. You have a wonderful day and decide that you can’t afford not to have his good graces and company on a daily basis. Every day, until the end of your life, you faithfully pay your penny.

In your old age, you make one last visit. You immediately embrace. The debt is still not paid but you are on good terms with your brother. He lovingly stamps the receipt and says, “Thank you, you are in good standing with me. Your debt is paid in full. Today, I will accompany you to our father’s house.”

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