Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, Matt 18:21-35

This is the parable that always shouts out to me that I have a long way to go as a Christ follower. I know that I can be long to forgive and quick to jump. I generally say something when wronged and have learned to watch how I say things… usually. Maybe some of you are longsuffering but remember every bit of the wrongs suffered and just didn’t say anything?

There are many things to say about this parable. The settlement of debts is something that we each must do. (Like balancing a checkbook… oops who does that anymore? It is all online! What’s a check?)

I think it is rather uncommon to simply cancel debts these days. Even in bankruptcy filings, it seems that the courts seek to offer repayment plans or liquidate assets to pay debts. I haven’t filed for bankruptcy, so I cannot comment in detail. The idea that I have formed is merely that it is uncommon to outright cancel debts.

Yet our Lord has done just that. Jesus took our debts as his own. Then paid them for us, effectively cancelling our debts.

The word debt is defined either as a) sin, or b) obligation or something owed. So, what the king in this parable did was cancel all mistakes and erase any obligation. Jesus did so as well; he cancelled our sins and erased any obligation to pay back or cover our short fallings. He fills in the gap in his grace. His mercy has been received in that the punishment deserved is not dealt out. We all carry the burdens of wrongs received or inflicted. It is the weight we carry that is the debt Jesus paid. So, we need not carry it any longer.

The parable says that mercy was extended; the man’s family is not separated and sold off to pay the debt, nor are his belongings. His debt is stricken from the books and he longer has any obligation or debt. He has not punished for what he had done and his wrong was removed. First he received mercy, then grace.

Yet when he meets a debtor, he demands repayment. The debtor is unable to pay and is thrown in jail. So, it seems he was happy for himself but unable to fully permit the mercy and grace to infiltrate his being and flow out to others. I am sure that I do the same, as do you. Hopefully we are good at extending mercy and grace and only fall short occasionally.

We too have been forgiven and are free of obligation and sin. We have nothing left to do to come off even. I think we end up ahead. Yet I am certain that I too see others that owe me, have an obligation to redress a wrong and it foments in me. It is one of the most difficult things to do, forgive others.

Is suspect that the big things we dwell on enough that we know we must forgive. The betrayal, the fights, the love that shatters into hurt. Those we know we must forgive. I think there is a process for each of our hurts to be forgiven. Maybe it is merely that the big ones we give ourselves license to take time to forgive. I don’t guess that is Biblical, though? This is for me as much as you. It is something that I am coming to realize as I write and ponder this story.

The king reviewed his accounts, the man begged, and all was forgiven. Perhaps that is our excuse. No one has asked our forgiveness. But, in verses 21 and 22 of this same chapter (often included with this parable), Peter asks how many times he should forgive his brother who wronged him. Jesus answers not seven times, but 77 times. Jesus does not say ‘if your brother asks forgiveness, you shall forgive him.’ It is true that Jesus also doesn’t say ‘immediately’ or put any timeframe on forgiveness. I guess the humanity in us is what stoppers the forgiveness from coming and infiltrating us fully. The sin and pride and sense of righteousness and the pain and hurt all keep us from extending grace and mercy as fully as when we received it.

I think that the obedience of forgiveness is the start of what Jesus is saying. Forgiving someone 77 times would perhaps imply time that passes. If it is for the same wrong or multiple, I do not know. But I know that some wrongs take time for the forgiveness to fully infiltrate our being again. The forgiveness heals the anger and pride and pain and hurt and that is in us about the wrong. And the more that has built up, the more we must heal. So, starting with the simple statement, perhaps only coming from obedience and not the heart is the first step.

I find that I carry not only the ‘big’ wrongs, but also the ‘little’ ones too. I find that the person who cuts me off, the worker who breaks something, the person who arrives late, these people who slight me in this way; I get angry about these wrongs. Meeting them in the street as I go away scot free of obligations as the king has forgiven me; I end up heaping burdens on myself. I am forgiven yet these slights get me angry and I carry this as burdens too.

Even now as I write this, acknowledging the wrong and considering forgiveness, I can feel some of that forgiveness seeping in and burden seeping out. In acknowledging that I have withheld forgiveness, I begin to forgive. The tension leaves my face. I can feel the physical manifestations of unforgiveness go away. I forgive the tardiness. I forgive the person who cut me off. I forgive the broken item. Hmmm. I have not gone back to edit that. I think I have more to forgive. It is the person, not the act we must forgive.

So, beginning again: I forgive the people who arrived late. I forgive the people who damaged the stove in installation, and I forgive the person who cuts me off and speeds up to do so!

The big wrongs seem obvious to us, as we live through them, we know where we are in the process. But, the little ones take me by the moment and get my blood boiling. Are you that way? I’m not one that just lets it roll like water off a duck’s back.

The parable ends with the king calling the servant to answer for his actions. I must seek to forgive quickly, extend mercy and grace. These must be the things that infiltrate my being.

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