What does Jesus mean by the “last penny?”


In Matthew 5:25-26, it reads:  "Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing."

What exactly is the uttermost farthing or last penny?  When is the payment over with, when God says so or the judge?  How would I apply this scripture to my life?


In Matthew 5:20-27, Jesus is dealing with the problem of anger. One of his points is that putting off settling disputes does not make the problem go away. Paul put it this way, ""Be angry, and do not sin": do not let the sun go down on your wrath" (Ephesians 4:26). Unresolved disputes have a strong tendency to grow out of proportion to the original cause.

The example Jesus uses is that of a dispute over what is owed. Jesus urges us to come to a solution quickly. If you put it off, the other person in his anger at you will likely drag you to court. There the judge isn't going to be sympathetic to your side because you did nothing to try and settle the problem. Thus, you end up with no mercy. You will have to pay down to the last penny, the judge won't let you off with anything less.

The point can be generalized. Putting off settling a problem between two people makes both the person who is angry with you less sympathetic toward you. Solomon compares it to a dam that is about to break. "The beginning of strife is like releasing water; therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts" (Proverbs 17:14). If you fix a leaking dam when it first appears, it is easily fixable. If you wait until the dam bursts, there is no stopping the chaos that results. Other people will also look at you without sympathy if you put off settling problems, even though they don't have a stack in the matter. It doesn't matter what reasons you give, if you wait until you are forced to settle, every one will simply sound like an excuse.

When it appears to people that you must be dragged to settle a problem, they will not be sympathetic to your position. They won't be inclined to give you lenience or mercy.

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