Matthew 18: 21-35
The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[i] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
‘I know a minister who preaches about the Kingdom of God as ‘the kindness’. She suggests we invite and inhabit it, allowing it to come towards us. Kindness comes in our daily life away from the corridors of power. The Kindness assumes accessibility. It is similar to the way Jesus spoke in agricultural images to farming communities in Galilee. He assumed the Kingdom of God as something already there for the seeking and finding.’ –Julie Perrin.
On reading the gospel account of the unmerciful servant, we hear Peter questioning Jesus ‘how many times should we forgive one another?’ Jesus replies by telling Peter about forgiveness in the Kingdom of God. The unmerciful servant is the sinner who owes a great debt to the King who is God, the Master is Jesus who takes pity on the servant. Although the servant is the guilty party and is obligated to repay, yet the Master forgives him and sets him free from his burden of guilt and sin. Mercy and forgiveness in this story is a kindness that promotes generosity and understanding, rather than harsh punishment, retribution or anger. We can, in our own life experience, imagine owing someone a great debt that we are unable to pay – rather than the case being dragged through the courts, all charges are dropped and the debt is cancelled. Have we ever been on the receiving end of such generosity and kindness? Would we pass it on to others?
In the Kingdom of God, we are like Peter, seeking advice from Jesus, wanting to know how to relate to one another, how to live together when things are difficult when we are hurt or offended by others. Jesus teaches us to remember that we are God’s servants who have been shown great mercy, forgiveness, and loving-kindness. Our burden of guilt and shame and resentment is forgiven when we come before God and lay our burden down and place our trust in the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins. God strengthens us to love others by His Spirit at work within us, we are free to give the same mercy and forgiveness that God has shown to us.
The servant in this story had a grateful heart to his Master for cancelling the debt he owed, yet, he was unable to pass on such kindness to his fellow servant. Forgiveness is not a curt apology through gritted teeth, like a child in a schoolyard – but it is the gracious loving-kindness that is the gift of God’s Kingdom, it is the source of peace for us, peace with God and with others.
We cannot find this kindness within ourselves, the pain of hurt and broken human relationships is very real. We can find healing and forgiveness for ourselves and others through prayer with our merciful God, listening to God’s word as it speaks to us by the Holy Spirit. God’s love flows from within his people, like a spring of water coming up out of a dry desert, giving life to others.
Lord, help us to forgive others as you have forgiven us, grant us your peace, May the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Psalm 114:7-8 ‘Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water.’