Parable of the Unforgiving/Unmerciful Servant: Matthew 18:23-34
The parable of the unforgiving servant, also called the parable of the unmerciful servant, is told by Jesus to illustrate the necessity of forgiveness and mercy. In context, Jesus has just told the Parable of the Lost Sheep which leads to a conversation about forgiveness.
Peter asks, "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus replies by saying, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times." (Matthew 18:21-22)
Jesus Christ Speaks in Figures of Speech. This reply of "seventy-seven times" is a perfect example of Jesus using exaggeration, which is a figure of speech. His point by saying "seventy-seven times" is that we should forgive every time someone sins against us.
Peter proposes what he thinks is a large number (As many as seven times?), but Jesus proposes a significantly larger number to communicate: as many times as necessary.
To think that Jesus was teaching to forgive seventy-seven times, but to stop forgiving if they exceed this number, is a ridiculous idea.
Nowadays we use much larger numbers to communicate similar ideas, such as saying, "I've done that a million times." Obviously, we haven't done it a million times, but we are using an extremely large number to communicate a lot.
To further illustrate his point that we should forgive as many times as necessary, Jesus tells the parable of the unmerciful servant.
Jesus begins by saying, in reference to forgiving, "For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves." (Matthew 18:23)
This king has one servant who owes him ten-thousand talents. Since a talent was worth more than 15 years of wages for an average worker, this many talents would be at least 150,000 years worth of money. Jesus is making the point that this man owes a lot of money.
In order to have this money returned, the king orders that this man be sold along with his family and everything he owns. The servant pleads with the king, and the king is merciful. He actually decides to completely forgive this massive debt.
This servant then leaves the king's presence. However, on his way out, the servant meets one of his own slaves who owes him a hundred denarii. A hundred denarii would be about 100 days worth of debt, which is a significantly smaller debt than what was owed to the king.
The king's servant grabs his own servant by the throat and says, "Pay what you owe." (Matthew 18:28) This second servant pleads with the first, but the first one is unmerciful and unforgiving. He throws his slave in jail until he can repay the debt, which means that this servant would be in jail forever since a person cannot make money while in prison and would never be able to repay the debt.
Those witnessing this event were greatly distressed, so they went and told their king what had happened. The king then requests to see the first servant and says, "You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?" (Matthew 18:32-33)
Then the king, in his anger, had the first servant tortured until he could repay his debt. Like the second servant who was sent to prison, a person cannot make money while they are being tortured which means this first servant would be tortured forever.
Jesus concludes this parable of the unmerciful servant by
saying, "So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you
do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart." (Matthew 18:35)
The first servant represents everyone. We all have a massive debt that God has forgiven. We are expected to model this forgiveness, out of thankfulness and appreciation, by forgiving others of their much smaller debts towards us.
This is what Jesus teaches us in the Lord's Prayer, "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors...For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you." (Matthew 6:12-14)
By ending this parable of the unmerciful servant with this statement in Matthew 18:35, Jesus is vividly emphasizing his point to forgive as many times as is necessary. Otherwise, those who do not forgive are exactly like this first servant, and God will treat them as such by not forgiving their massive debt.
Also, when Jesus says to forgive "from your heart," it is because we reveal what is truly in us by what we do. Our Actions Reveal the Truth about whether or not we have truly forgiven someone.
It would be incorrect to say, "I may be rude to that person, but I have forgiven them in my heart." Such a statement is contradictory and hypocritical. If we truly forgive someone "in our heart," everything about us will reveal that forgiveness, including our actions.
However, this statement is not to say that we should blindly trust everyone no matter how evil they are; on the contrary, Paul tells us to avoid those who refuse to repent, saying, "But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one." (1 Corinthians 5:11)
Forgiveness is releasing a person from the debt they owe, which means there is no grudge or sense of revenge.
Trusting is choosing to lend in the first place, which is okay to refuse to do in terms of trusting ourselves to others. This is similar to what Jesus says in Matthew 7:6, "Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you."
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