Unmerciful Servant

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. “When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. “But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. “So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ “And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. “But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ “So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ “But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. “So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. “Then summoning him, his lord *said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. ‘Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:23-35)

Today we will look at the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. This Parable is also about the Kingdom of God but it is a view of the character of the people that will make up the Kingdom.

Jesus told the parable in response to a question that His disciple Peter had asked Him. “Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21) Peter had probably thought that he was being very gracious towards his brother by being willing to forgive his brother up to seven times. According to the teaching of the Rabbis forgiving one three times was more than sufficient.

Jesus first answered Peter with a number of times for forgiveness that in reality is infinite. “Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:22) The truth that Jesus is demonstrating is that we are to have a spirit of forgiveness that has no limits to the times we are willing to forgive. Jesus then reinforced His point by telling the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.

As we look at this Parable we see that a king had compassion on his servant and forgives a huge debt that he owed. (Matthew 18:23-27) The debt that the servant owed was 10,000 talents. A talent is around 6,000 denarii. A denarii is equal to one day’s wages meaning that this servant owed his master 60,000,000 denarii. If a day’s wage was 50.00 then the servant owed his master three billion dollars. This amount then is way far more than the servant could ever pay. But the king in his compassion for the servant forgave the debt owed to him entirely.

In Matthew 18:28-30 we see that the servant refused to forgive a petty debt of a fellow slave. The slave owed the servant one hundred denarii which would be about 5,000 dollars. The slave pleaded with the servant much in the same way as the servant did before the king. Yet, the servant refused to forgive the debt of the slave.

The king upon hearing the servant was not merciful towards the slave as he had been toward him imposes the former sentence upon the servant plus handed him over to the torturers.

Jesus then gives this warning to His disciples that if they are unwilling to forgive the debt of others as they have been given by the Father they in turn will be treated the same way as the unmerciful servant. “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35) The lack of a willingness to forgive others who have transgressed against us will bring severe punishment from the Father. A sinner who has been forgiven should be willing to express the same love towards another and a willingness to forgive as they have been forgiven.

There are some interesting points that we must remember from this Parable. All of mankind is in debt to God and all our unable to repay that debt. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Our debt has been paid in full, past, present and future by the atoning sacrifice of Christ. “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28) Only those who are willing to forgive others for their transgressions have the assurance that they are also forgiven. “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. “But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matthew 6:14-15) In truth it should be easy for us to forgive others as what we are in debt to God is infinitely more than what others owe us. Our unwillingness to forgive others can leave us destined to eternal punishment. “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.” (Matthew 18:34)

Another observation is that the Kingdom of God will be filled with people who are forgiven and willing to forgive. People who have received mercy and are merciful. “For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13)

The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Colossian Church gives us a hint as to how to develop a forgiving spirit. “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” (Colossians 3:12-13)

Forgiving is pleasing to the Lord but if we harbor the ill feeling have we really forgiven. Forgetting is a hard thing to do but it can be done with God’s help. Remember Joseph whose brothers sold him into slavery. Yet Joseph forgave his brothers and God made him forget. “Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” (Genesis 41:51) Paul gives the example of letting the past go and focusing on the future. “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.” (Philippians 3:13) Both Joseph and Paul had plenty of evil committed against them but they forgave and they forgot the transgressions against them.

When we consider the love, mercy, and forgiveness that God has freely given us through His Son Jesus Christ then we should accept His forgiveness as a model for the forgiveness we should show towards others. This is essential for us to do as citizens of the Kingdom of God we are to have the attitude of mercy and forgiveness towards others. “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Matthew 6:14)

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

December 1, 2016

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