(This post is intended to be a follow-up to last Monday’s talk, Please Come Home, so go read that first so you can get a grasp of what needs to happen here!)
23“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.24When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.26So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
So, let’s put things in perspective a little bit here, just so we know what we’re looking at. A king wants to settle all his accounts, and starts calling all his servants to him. One servant owes 10,000 talents, one of which was worth about twenty years wages, so this guy was about 200,000 years in debt. Obviously can’t pay it off, but begs the king for mercy, and receives it, not only to escape prison, but his debt was forgiven as well. Personally, I wish my student loans would be forgiven this way.
This is huge. It was pretty unheard of for a king or a master to forgive even smaller debts than that, let alone 10,000 talents (Jesus liked to tell stories contrary to how people acted in his time). What Jesus is demonstrating with the first servant is the unabashed, unconditional love that the Father has for us: no matter how great your debt, no matter how evil the things we’ve done, we are not only saved from punishment, but forgiven what we’ve done and started with a clean slate. When I talked about the Prodigal Son last week, we showed the Father’s complete willingness to forgive a son who wished him dead. This same love is being shown here by a king, a ruler with terrible connotations in those days. Kings didn’t forgive; they only punished. Still, this king forgave this servant a massive debt.
The servant, no doubt happy he is debt-free now, finds someone who owes him 100 denarii, about 100 days worth, physically assaults him, and demands the money he is owed. When begged for mercy, he refuses to be patient and throws him in debtor’s prison. This is pretty common in Jesus’ time, as it was the individual’s right to demand payment of debt and to prosecute those who wouldn’t pay. Still, here comes the punch line…
The king gets wind of this, has the servant brought before him, and reinstates his debt and throws him into prison because of how he the second servant was treated. Jesus then goes on to say that we, being forgiven, will be treated in the same fashion if we do not forgive. Mercy means nothing if it stops with one person; it must be replicated and repeated by those who are shown mercy, or the cycle of debt and punishment will only continue. The Father wants to break this up. He wants to take pity on us because we can’t pay our debts and just forgive them, but he refuses to do so unless we are showing the same mercy to others that He has shown us first.
There’s no excuses here, no “but what about…?” to ask; you have no choice. You must forgive and show mercy, or no mercy will be shown to you. Mercy has the capacity to change even the most evil of men when it comes from God, and for us to deny that forgiveness to others is wrong and sinful and selfish. Our petty grudges are forgiven by God, why can’t we show others the same mercy?
What about you? Do you have trouble forgiving others? Who do you need to forgive, for whatever reason?