In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen. Glory to Jesus Christ!
Today we are told a parable by the Lord. We shouldn’t think that this parable is only a story for the disciples, or for another time, in another place. Make no mistake, it is for us today! The Gospel reading follows directly a question that had been posed to Jesus by Peter. We are in Matthew 18. Today’s Gospel reading begins at verse 23. But Peter’s question starts at verse 21. “ Then Peter came forward and asked Jesus, ‘Lord, how often shall I forgive my brother who sins against me? Until seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not tell you until seven times, but seventy times seven!’” (Mt 18:21–22).
In those days, in the prevailing culture there, it was thought that three was the number, of how many times someone must forgive someone else for the same offense. You see here how Peter increases that number quite generously. He even doubles it and adds to it a little bit! That sounded quite reasonable didn’t it?
The Lord’s answer must have been a bit of a surprise then. “Not seven times, but seventy times seven!” He was obviously not being literal here. He doesn’t want us going around keeping score, that would be awful! The point is forgiveness, patience, forbearance. Should it have a limit?
This is where today’s Gospel begins, with Peter and the other disciples standing a bit surprised by the Lord’s answer to Peter’s question. Then the Lord begins to tell them again, to illustrate what He means, about the Kingdom of Heaven. “Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.” Jesus uses imagery that would be very easy for His listeners to understand. Using very everyday language and expressions. But His standards, His criteria, are not “everyday” for His listeners. Here again, He overturns what people’s expectations and customs were. He exposes the inadequacy of our worldly standards.
Using the example of a servant who owed his master, his king a very large amount of money, Jesus helps us to realize the magnitude of God’s mercy towards us. In this parable, the servant owes “ten thousand talents”. This again, is not a literal ten thousand, but just a huge astronomical number. Because of the large amount, the servant could not possible repay it. So it was ordered by the king that this servant and his family be sold in order to repay this debt, as was customary in those days.
The servant fell down at the feet of the king and begged him, “Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.” This action by the servant so moved the king, that he felt compassion for him. And the king forgave the entire debt! Just imagine how this servant would have felt. Imagine how significant it would be, especially in those days, no debt relief agencies around, and it’s quite difficult and time consuming to come by any amount of money for a servant like that. The entire debt was wiped away! What joy, relief, and gratitude one would feel.
But that is not where this parable goes. This servant, who had just had so much lifted off of him, the debt of a lifetime and more taken off of his shoulders went out and did the unthinkable. Instead of happily going home to share the great news with his family, he immediately found someone, a fellow servant, a peer, and grabbed him and demanded he repay the comparatively small amount that he owed this servant.
This second servant did the same thing when the repayment was demanded of him, as the first servant did before the king. He fell down, and begged for mercy, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you all”. He even used the identical wording. Even though this debt was much smaller, and it was more realistic that it could be repaid, the first servant had him thrown into prison, in spite of just having been shown such great mercy from the king.
Well his fellow servants saw everything, and in sorrow told it to the king. And bringing the first servant back before him said, “‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.”
And Jesus concludes His parable with this verse: “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
This is quite a serious warning. But you can see the Lord’s criteria, is not human criteria. That which we think is reasonable, is not even close. On the other hand, there are times when we despair, and think “How can God forgive me? I’m such a wretch!” Here He clearly shows us, how quick to forgive He is, how great His mercy is, compared to worldly standards, if we are willing to humble ourselves and repent.
But again, this also requires something of us. We must forgive our neighbors! We must be merciful! The Lord tells us elsewhere in Matthew: “‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’” (Mt 12:7). Do you remember this? It’s a quote from the Old Testament. Sometimes we’re led to believe that God is different in the Old Testament from the God we hear about in the New Testament. “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Ho 6:6).
And we hear often in the Psalms “For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: Thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Ps 50/51:16–17).
This is of course is from Psalm 50/51. And what do we say everyday in the Lord’s prayer? “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”. Let us go forth form here, remembering these words of our Lord, the words of the prayer He has taught us, and the words of His Gospel. Take them to heart, put them into practice. True servants of the Lord forgive, are merciful! This is our God, in Whose image we have been made. Let us live up to that likeness!
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.