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The Parables of Jesus Part 13
Matthew 18:21-35- We forgive again and again because He has forgiven the very worst that we have done.
“Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus *said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his Lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ And the Lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.
But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed.
So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their Lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his Lord *said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ And his Lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.””
Matthew 18:21-35 NASB1995
This next parable, found only in the Gospel of Matthew, is in response to a question that Peter asks Jesus about how many times we should forgive someone else that has sinned against us. I included the verses with the question and the response of Jesus ahead of the parable. According to my research, the rabbis at the time of Jesus told people that they must forgive someone else three times (not sure what would happen after that and why would you keep count, because that means you really didn’t mean it). Peter is trying to make himself look merciful by suggesting seven times. Jesus gives him an answer that stuns him and the disciples when He essentially says that you forgive an unlimited numbers of times, equated to a very large number. The “seventy times seven” is not meant to suggest that you forgive the first 490 offenses (and keep count) and then stop forgiving at 491, but is the Lord’s way of saying that you forgive, forget and don’t keep count!
The parable is a story meant to illustrate this forgiveness. The kingdom of heaven is compared to a king who wants to settle accounts with his slaves. One slave is brought to him who owes ten thousand talents. Apparently, some Biblical commentators have done the math and this amount equates to somewhere between $12 million and $1 billion dollars!! What in the world has this slave done with that much money back in Biblical days? He was probably living better than Pontius Pilate or owned most of the land in Israel! It is obviously a massive debt that cannot be repaid.
The king also knew that the debt cannot be repaid, so he directed that the slave and his family be sold, along with all of the slave’s property (probably gaining back just a tiny percentage of the total debt but getting a small amount of justice). The slave fell down before the king and said “Master, have patience with me and I will pay you all”. This is certainly a bold statement, as there is no way for him to pay this back or for the king to have that much patience. Here is what Charles Spurgeon says about this resolute hopefulness (from the Enduring Word commentary):
“Many a poor sinner is very rich in resolutions. This servant-debtor thought he only needed patience; but indeed he needed forgiveness!”
The Lord of the slave then had compassion on him and forgave him the astronomical debt and released him. So what does our forgiven and very relieved slave do? He immediately finds another slave who owed him 100 denarii, about 100 days wages, but ~ 1/600,000 the debt of the now-forgiven slave. The forgiven slave seized the slave who owed him this amount and began to choke him, demanding immediate repayment. This slave replies in the exact same way: “Have patience with me and I will repay you”. The other slave’s response to this is to throw this poor fellow into debtor’s prison until he can repay the debt.
Apparently, our forgiven slave was not popular with the other servants, because they see this chain of events, are deeply grieved and immediately go to their Lord and report what happened. The Lord summoned the wicked slave (he has gone from being forgiven to evil in the eyes of his master). The Lord asks him why he didn’t forgive the debt owed him like his debt was forgiven. The slave is not given a chance to respond, but is handed over to the torturers until he repays the enormous debt. The warning from Jesus is that a similar thing will happen to us if we don’t forgive our brothers from the heart. Any debt owed to us by others pales in comparison with the debt that Jesus paid on the cross for our miserable sins. We don’t keep accounts, we don’t forgive half-heartedly, we don’t expect anything in return, but we fully forgive others because He forgave us.
Here is a fantastic summary of forgiving from the heart, from Enduring Word commentary:
If each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses: With this, Jesus taught an important and often neglected principle regarding forgiveness. There are many sincere Christians who withhold forgiveness from others for mistaken reasons – and they feel entirely justified in doing so.
Their reasoning works like this: We should not forgive another person who sins against us until they are properly repentant. This is because repentance is mentioned in the context of our commands to forgive (such as in Luke 17:4), and because our forgiveness to others is to be modeled after God’s forgiveness of us. Since God does not forgive us apart from repentance, so we should not forgive others unless they properly repent to us. We even have the duty to withhold such forgiveness and to judge their repentance, because it is ultimately in their best interest to do so.
This thinking – even if it means well – is incorrect and ultimately dangerous. This parable shows us why it is incorrect for us to think, “God doesn’t forgive me without my repentance; therefore I must withhold forgiveness from others who sin against me until they properly repent.” That thinking is wrong, because I do not stand in the same place as God in the equation, and I never can. God stands as One who has never been forgiven and never needed forgiveness; I stand as one who has been forgiven and needs continual forgiveness.
Therefore – if it were possible – we should be far quicker to forgive than God is, without precondition of repentance, because we stand as forgiven sinners who must also forgive. We have an even greater obligation to forgive than God does.
Since we have been forgiven so much, we have no right to withhold forgiveness from others. We are the debtor forgiven almost an infinite debt; will we hold on to the small debts others owe to us? If anyone had the right to withhold forgiveness it is God – and He forgives more freely and more completely than anyone we know. What possible right do we have to hold on to our unforgiveness?
It is also important to understand that a distinction can and should be made between forgiveness and reconciliation. True reconciliation of relationship can only happen when both parties are agreeable to it, and this may require repentance on one or both of the parties in the conflict. Yet forgiveness can be one-sided.
Furthermore, forgiveness does not necessarily shield someone from the civil or practical consequences of their sin. For example, a homeowner may personally forgive the man who robbed his house, yet it is still appropriate for the robber to be arrested and put in jail. On a personal level, forgiveness is required. On a civil and societal level, the man should be punished by the magistrates (Romans 13).
Nevertheless, the principle clearly stands. In context, this parable was given to make us more forgiving, not less forgiving. No one could reasonably read this parable and think that Jesus was trying to restrict the forgiveness of His disciples.
People who read this, “Therefore be somewhat stingy with forgiveness as your Father in heaven is somewhat stingy with forgiveness” miss the whole point of the parable. Instead, Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful (Luke 6:36).
From his heart: This makes the command all the stronger. “If we forgive in words only, but not from our hearts, we remain under the same condemnation.” (Charles Spurgeon)
We forgive others - we do not require their repentance, reconciliation or even a continuation of the relationship! It would be nice if they knew they were forgiven, but that forgiveness cannot be conditional or in words only nor can it be the subject of one-upmanship or boasting (“Well, I forgive you…You now, of course, owe ME”). This is, quite honestly, one of the hardest precepts that our Lord gave us.
Bearing a grudge and having a chip on your shoulder may be more satisfying emotionally, but the believer always has to remember what He did for us in His sacrifice. Someone might not deserve forgiveness, but that is not our judgment call to make. WE don’t deserve forgiveness, either, but God has granted it to those who repent and believe. This is easy to say when the trespass is a minor slight, but God asks us to forgive the worst that others can do to us, too, and to let civil authorities mete out appropriate penalties, while we still labor to forgive.
My next devotional examines the parable of the workers in the vineyard, found in Matthew 20:1-16.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Lord - Please help to forgive others who have sinned against me, without conditions, without keeping count and with my whole heart. I thank you, Lord, for your mercy and forgiveness for my sins. Amen.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org
Commentary from Enduring Word by David Guzik is used with written permission.