David Astor was born into a life of privilege. His home was a grand country estate, north of London, where the political and intellectual elite often gathered. His mother, Nancy, was the first female Member of Parliament. His education was at Eton and Oxford.
David was to make his mark as a newspaper editor, succeeding his father as editor of ‘The Observer’. He held the post for 27 years, before his death in 2001.
During his editorship the paper championed many liberal causes, including agitating for the release of Nelson Mandela. He was beloved by his employees, one of whom was the writer George Orwell. Yet David’s upbringing made him unaware of the struggles of other people, and often his employees salaries were much lower than they could have commanded elsewhere.
In one staff meeting, when bank interest and mortgage rates were fluctuating wildly, he innocently asked, ‘What is a mortgage?’. When the answer was given , he was gobsmacked. ‘Do you mean to tell me,’ he asked,’ that all my employees are in debt?’
There are many forms indebtedness, of course, aside from mortgages and credit card bills. Each day we enjoy countless things that we never pay for. As G.K. Chesterton once observed, ‘Who ever paid for a sunset?’. Besides, the few pounds we pay for a book is a paltry sum to pay for the skill, wisdom, research and discipline which have gone into the making of something which gives hours of pleasure. Likewise, our family, friends and acquaintances enrich our lives by their personal warmth , humour and counsel. With the apostle Paul we can all say, ‘I am debtor’(Romans 1;14).
Paul attempted to capture something of meaning of the death of Christ when he told his Colossian friends, ‘He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code that was against us..he took it away, nailing it to the cross.’(Colossians 2; 13,14). Paul was thinking of something comparable to an I.O.U. listing all our sins, and how when the bill was paid, a nail was driven through it, to indicate that the debt was paid. In like manner, our sins were cancelled when Christ died on the cross. Have you come to enjoy that freedom from debt?