This is probably one of the more difficult parables for followers of Jesus across denominations to wrap their head around. Unfortunately, when scripture says something that our denomination, our doctrine, or our theology doesn't agree with we tend to stand firmer on our doctrine, our denominations beliefs, or our personal theology then what scripture actually says. This is one of the reasons for the division that is hindering the church today. And this really pisses God off! (Proverbs 6:16-19)
Let's look at the parable of the unforgiving servant that is found in the Gospel of Matthew. It begins as Peter, one of the more vocal of the apostles, asking a specific question about forgiveness. How often do we have to forgive others. This is what we find in Matthew 18:21-35
²¹Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”
Peter seems to understand that a follower of Jesus should be overflowing with forgiveness. However, having to be an eternal fountain of forgiveness seems to be neither a rational nor logical expectation of any human being. I have often wondered how Peter landed on the number of seven as the limit of forgiveness required. I think Peter settled on that number seven because he had heard Jesus use that number as he taught on forgiveness on another occasion.. Unfortunately I think that he missed the heart of what Jesus was trying to teach, as many of us are prone to do. In Luke 17:3-4 we read,
³Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, ⁴and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Luke 17:3-4 ESV
All too often when I came to a passage I think I understand, I looked no further. I used to look at scripture as a legal document and not as the love letter from my heavenly Father. I looked for the bare minimum I had to do and would miss the intention God was offering me. And so the Son of God attempts to bring clarity to the situation.
²²Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
In the King James version, the number quoted by Jesus is "seventy times seven." The final number is irrelevant. Jesus is telling us that our forgiveness towards others should be limitless. If I'm counting how often I forgive you so that I don't have to forgive you anymore, I never truly offered you forgiveness in the first place.
In the Lord's prayer we are given a standard by which we are going to be forgiven. Basically, by the same standard we forgive is how we should expect to be forgiven. Here is a challenge for you, how often is it recorded that Jesus said, "if you do not forgive, you will not be forgiven"?
and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. Matthew 6:12 ESV (emphasis mine) also see Luke 11:4
As Christians, how frequently do we forgive? How completely do we forgive? How honestly do we forgive? Definitely not as well as we ought to. John 13:34-35 is a game changer when we understand what motivated Jesus to offer you and I forgiveness for our sins.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. John 13:34 ESV
If I love you as Christ loves me, that requires me to forgive you. If I don't forgive, then I hate you more than I claim to love God and that makes me a liar (1 John 4:20; 1 John 2:9,11). According to Jesus and according to the apostles teachings, forgiveness is a very big deal. This alone is what is seen as the biggest difference between the world and the Bride, which is the church, of Jesus Christ.
Because this issue is so fundamental in the life of a follower of Jesus he goes on to give us a parable to illustrate how vital this actually is.
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.
According to some research I did, 1 talent was roughly 50 kg (or 110.23 lbs) in gold. It also stated that 6000 talents, which is the bribe paid by king Auletes of Egypt to become king of Egypt to Julius Caesar, was worth $19,245,146,088.60 today. So 10000 talents would be about $32,075,243,481 today. So how could such an amount be accrued by any one person. One thing to remember is that debts can be inherited just like property can be. This servant could have been born a servant because of a debt created several generations earlier. And each generation can add to the debt or pay towards the debt.
²⁵And 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.’
Each servant was responsible for the entire debt they inherited. Unfortunately, as we see here, it can become so overwhelming that we don't even know where to start, so we don't do anything. But something unbelievable and unexpected happened.
²⁷And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
What would cause someone to forgive an amount so large because of pity? This is where the parable becomes a bit unrealistic for me. That's too big of a debt to just let go. Take a moment to imagine how you would have felt if you were that servant. What would it feel like if that burden was gone, forever. And like an old hymn reminds us,
"He paid a debt he did not owe, I owed a debt I could not pay." Author unknown
It's easy to forget our blessings, and it is even easier to take the grace offered for granted. And the servant that was just forgiven is no exception.
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.’
Because he owed nothing, now he could keep anything that others owed him. His approach to his fellow servant was that of a bully, possibly even a shot-caller. He literally went straight for this guy's jugular. The debt is equal to a little over 3 months wages, about $12,000 in today's economy. It's still a bit but very doable. It's interesting to notice how this servant's plea is almost an exact duplicate of the plea given by the first servant. But those words landed on ears deafened by greed.
³⁰He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.
This guy who was just escaped being thrown in prison is so focused on the money owed him that nothing was going to stop him from collecting what was his.
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.
Why the fellow servants became "greatly distressed" is not mentioned here. I don't know if they also owed this guy money. However, they reported it to their master in detail. It wasn't their place to step in and correct what was happening.
³²Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. ³³And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ ³⁴And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.
Notice that the pity and compassion that the master had towards the first servant turns into anger. How would you respond if someone took the kindness and compassion you showed to them for granted and used it as license to treat others like crap? Many of us have done the same with those around us. It is interesting to note that where the ESV used the word "jailers", the KJV uses "tormentors" and the NKJV uses the word "torturers". This is clearly a description of hell.
³⁵So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
According to this final warning Jesus gave to his disciples and followers, the security of the forgiveness of my sins, is tied directly to my obedience to forgive. Our salvation can never be ever be earned. However, with our salvation come new standards and responsibilities. We are his property (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8
“For I the Lord do not change; Malachi 3:6(a)
"But the one who endures to the end will be saved." Matthew 24:13 ESV (also see Mark 13:13)
"The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son." Revelation 21:6-7 ESV
So let us seriously consider what the Bible says is the consequence of not forgiving others. Our eternity depends on how serious we take God at His word.
Take time to listen to the song, He Paid A Debt.