Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. Our text for this morning is Matthew 18:21-35, which contains our Lordâ€™s parable of the unforgiving servant. But you will notice that this parable is told in response to a question. Peter asks our Lord a question about forgiveness: â€œLord, how many times will my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?â€ (Matthew 18:21).
Our Lord first responds to Peterâ€™s question with a direct answer: â€œI do not say to you up to seven times, but rather up to seventy-seven timesâ€ (Matthew 18:22).
It might be easy to get caught up in the numbers, but here our Lord is really commanding that forgiveness ought not be counted. To put a limit on forgiveness is to fail to understand the very nature of forgiveness in the Christian life. And so, our Lord continues his answer to Peterâ€™s question by telling the parable of the unforgiving servant. In this parable, our Lord teaches that our own life of forgiveness, and indeed every aspect of our life, must be viewed within the framework of our Lordâ€™s forgiveness and mercy toward us. So, as we consider this parable, we will do so by:
1.) Understanding the parable on its own terms and
2.) Seeing how the parable applies to our lives.
2. As we consider the parable on its own terms, we first notice that, crucially, our Lord begins the parable with these words: â€œTherefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a certain kingâ€ (Matthew 18:23).
With these words, our Lord makes it clear to what we should be paying attention as we consider this parable. The kingdom of heaven is like a man, who is this king. It is the actions of this king which make up the most critical message of this parable. The other details of this parable are important, but it is the king to which we should pay the most attention. And so, we learn that this king has lended money to a number of servants and he is now ready to settle accounts. That is to say, itâ€™s time to pay up because he wants his money back. And so, weâ€™re introduced to the second most important character in the parableâ€”the man who will come to be called the evil servant. This servant owes his master 10,000 talents, which even under the most conservative of estimations would take several hundred thousand years of work to pay off. This isnâ€™t just an absurdly large debt, it is an impossibly large debt. There is no way that this servant could ever find the means to pay off this debt. Period. And yet, after the servant pleads with the master, the master has compassion on the servantâ€”a compassion that leads him to act in a manner which appears to be irrational and ludicrous. The master, at great personal cost to himself, forgives the debt of this servant. The slate is wiped clean. His debt has been released. He is a new, free man. But rather than walking away and living in thanksgiving and gratitude for his masterâ€™s generosity, this evil servant acts as if heâ€™s just been let off the hook. Itâ€™s as if he wants to go out and ensure that he is never put in a situation like this again. And so, he seeks out one of his fellow servants who owes him a debt. The debt is one hundred denarii, which is somewhere around 3-4 monthsâ€™ worth of earnings. So, this is not an insignificant debt. This servant treats his fellow servant with violence and contempt, demanding that he pay back the debt. When the man pleads with him, he refuses to have compassion. Literally, weâ€™re told: â€œBut he did not desire [to have compassion], but rather went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debtâ€ (Matthew 18:30).
And now the king re-enters the scene at the prompting of the fellow servants. The king condemns the evil servant for failing to show the same kind of mercy to his fellow servant that he had received from his master: â€œIs it not necessary that you also show mercy to your fellow servant just as I showed you mercy?â€ (Matthew 18:33).
With all of this in mind, we can take away two major points for how the kingdom of heaven is like this king. First, the kingdom of heaven is like this king in that it is made up entirely of men and women who have been forgiven an impossibly large debt at great personal cost to the king. But second, the kingdom of heaven is like this king in that our Lord expects those who would live in his kingdom to allow the great forgiveness they have received to shape the way in which they live. In other words, The master expects that all of life will be shaped and informed by his mercy and compassion. This, essentially, was the problem of the evil slave in the parable. He failed to see the debt owed him by his fellow servant within the framework of his masterâ€™s generosity and forgiveness. So, this parable serves as a warning, lest we do the same.
3. Now, as we consider how this parable applies to us, we recognize that it is a parable about forgiveness. It is a parable that teaches the importance of forgivenessâ€”I must forgive because of Godâ€™s mercy to me. I am like that servant in the parable who has managed to accumulate an impossibly large debt of sin. I might think that I have the means and the ability to work off the debt, but the reality is there is no way that I could ever find the means to do so. My debt of sin is impossibly large. And yet, God in Christ has had compassion on me. At great personal cost to himself, he has forgiven me the debt that I owe, and now he expects me to show mercy to others in the same way that mercy has been shown to me. I must forgive because of Godâ€™s mercy to me. And so, as the parable indicates, there is something deeper than a simple act of forgiveness going on here. To say that this parable challenges and even requires me to act in forgiveness toward others is only part of the picture. This parable challenges and even requires of me to accept the Lordâ€™s framework of forgiveness and mercy over all areas of my life. Forgiveness is not only a part of my life, it is my life. Without the Lordâ€™s forgiveness and compassion and mercy, I would not even have life. The life that I have is given me by the forgiveness won for me by Christ on the cross. This is the framework in which I must live all of my life.
4. And so, this leads to the all-important question: How do I forgive? Now, this may seem like an odd question on the surface, but itâ€™s an important one. Perhaps youâ€™ve been a part of a conversation like this before: A child has just been hurt by one of his siblings. The sibling comes and apologizes. After an awkward pause, the parent says to him, â€œYou need to forgive your sibling.â€ The child says, â€œBut I donâ€™t want to forgive him!â€ The parent replies, â€œYou need to forgive him anyway.â€ So, the child begrudgingly does so. I think that everyone in this room knows what that conversation is like. The question is, do we understand the deep-rooted truth going on here? When the child says, â€œI donâ€™t want to forgive himâ€, he is verbalizing a reality that we all know too well. Yet we often fail to articulate it. We know that it is right to forgive those who have hurt us, and yet we donâ€™t want to. There is often a disconnect between our intellect and our emotions. Our mind knows that we ought to forgive, but our heart doesnâ€™t want to. This is the human experience. So often, our mind and our heart arenâ€™t on the same page. When faced with those moments, we can give into the ways of the world and follow our heart. But choosing to not forgive because we donâ€™t feel like it is choosing the path of the evil servant. Our Lordâ€™s parable warns us not to go that route. The alternative is not to follow your heart, but to lead your heart. The alternative is to choose forgiveness, even when you donâ€™t feel like it. See, the decision to forgive and the feeling of forgiveness are often separate. For us fallen, sinful humans, forgiveness is a process. It takes time for our heart to catch up with the decision that our mind has made. So, does that mean that when I have spoken words of forgiveness yet donâ€™t feel that forgiveness in my heart that I have failed to forgive and have followed the part of the evil servant in our parable? Of course not. Forgiveness is a process. When I have spoken words of forgiveness and yet I donâ€™t feel that forgiveness in my heart, that means I am human. Itâ€™s normal for a fallen, sinful human to experience this. And yet, I donâ€™t leave myself there. I must continue to lead my heart, reminding myself over and over again if I need to that I have forgiven that person who has sinned against me. Forgiveness is messy. The world of emotions and hearts is complicated and difficult. Forgiveness of sins is not as simple and straight forward as the canceling of a debt in the financial world. And yet it is this messy, complicated, difficult world of the forgiveness of sins into which our king Jesus entered. He took on our human flesh, suffered the frailties of human life, and bore the debt of our sins upon himself as he suffered and died on the cross for us. Our Lordâ€™s life and death was messy, complicated, and difficult. And yet, he endured it for us so that we might be forgiven. May we be given strength and patience to live all of our lives under this framework of our Lordâ€™s forgiveness toward us so that, by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, we might be empowered to deal with the difficulty and mess of forgiving others in the manner in which we have been forgiven.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.