Matthew 18:21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times [or seventy times seven which is my preferred translation].
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold,
together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything. ’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe. ’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you. ’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you? ’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Obviously, the general theme here is straightforward. God forgives us far more than we could ever forgive each other. And it’s important that we should respond to such grace by spreading the wealth. But the reason I love this parable is because it is a powerful reminder of how we as Kingdom people are to forgive.
A talent was worth more than 15 years wages of a laborer, so this slave owed his lord 150,000+ years wages. Clearly he wasn’t going to be able to pay this debt back, yet the lord is still moved with pity and forgives him the debt. That’s the kind of grace found in the Kingdom and which God extends to us. Now this slave should feel liberation but when it’s his turn to forgive he grabs his debtor by the throat, “Pay what you owe!” What was owed was a mere 100 dinarii, or 100 days laborer wages. This joker is forgiven a debt 547,500 times larger than the one he refuses to forgive! His lord is not impressed and neither are we. The lord hands the wicked slave over to the torturers until the debt is paid. Does anyone here think the debt will ever be paid?
I found that disturbing because the punishment seemed out of proportion until I remembered a couple of points. The wicked slave knew he was forgiven a huge debt. We tend to apply this to people we think need for eternal damnation insurance, i.e. those who are not part of the Kingdom. The problem with that is this is about The Kingdom and it’s denizens. It applies to me, to us, who are struggling to be Kingdom people. So for me to willfully piss all over something so precious as God’s grace naturally would be a bad thing. Bad things lie in store for such behavior.
Another part of this is that the servant was duplicitous. He was a hypocrite promising to pay back a debt he knows he can’t pay while behind his lord’s back he viciously demands repayment for a debt that probably could. I think that’s where Jesus was going with “from your heart.” Feigned forgiveness in front of each other isn’t worth a damn (pun intended). It’s useless hypocrisy because the Father needs no snitches to see where your heart’s at. Only heartfelt forgiveness counts and is a proper response to God’s grace.
Living in the Kingdom is no joke.
(I am not making the case that if you can’t forgive someone, you are going to hell or something. I would struggle to forgive someone who harmed my child, for example. But the struggle would be there. There is a huge difference between can’t and won’t. I want to be a Kingdom person.)