And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. (Matthew 18:27)
This is going to be a lesson for us in dying. Last week we discussed the question, “How can we embrace more fully being last, least, little, lost and dead?” This parable is going to teach us how to embrace death. How to die. At least that is how we are going to try to read it. Let’s read it.
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants… His wish was to settle accounts. Don’t miss that. This story is about accounting. Keeping records, check lists, and weighing out the cost benefit ratio. “Jesus, shrewd teacher that he is, begins by setting up law, not grace, as the first element of the parable. This king is a bookkeeper, pure and simple.” Capon. His wish is to settle. That means to clean the books. Get someone these debts paid and off the books.
“When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents…” And the first debt (when he began) was an astronomical one. 10,000 talents. A talent referred to the largest unit of money at that time. A talent represented a very large sum of money. According to New Nave’s Topical Bible, one who possessed five talents of gold or silver was a multimillionaire by today’s standards. One talent could have been the equivalent to 20 years of wages for a common worker. This servant owes 10,000 talents. Think about that 10,000 – 20 year wages, that’s like 200,000 years of labor.
This reminds me of that scene in Austin powers when Dr. Evil puts his pinky to his mouth and says, “One hundred billion dollars!” And the president and his cabinet busts into laughter saying, “Dr. Evil this is 1969 that kind of money doesn’t even exist. That’s like saying, ‘I wanna kajillion bazillion dollars!”
The bottom line is that Jesus uses an impossible amount. It is perhaps a bit of an over kill in Jesus’ story. Or maybe it isn’t. Maybe Jesus want us to see something in it. Lets move on.
“And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made…” Since it is clear that this man is never gonna be able to repay the kajillion bazillion dollars the king determines to sell the man, and his family into slavery and make at least that back. Their gonna have an estate sell and everything must go. The house, the furniture, the china, and the wife and children have a price tag too. Sell it all and perhaps I’ll get some thing of my debt back.
“So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me…’” Honesty, who wouldn’t do that? All of us he would fall on our knees “NO!” Please no!” Not may wife, not that kids!” THE GREEK SOUND LIKE “BE BIG HEARTED TOWARDS ME” But what is really, almost, comical is what he says next.
“Have patience with me and I will pay you everything…” Yeah right. How on earth could he ever think he could repay a kajillion bazillion dollars? 10,000 talents – 200,000 years’ wages? I don’t think so. He pleads for patience. The greek word sounds like ‘be big hearted towards me.’ Maybe a big hearted man would have patience enough to wait almost 200,000 years for this guy to come up with the cash. This man asks for him to have a big heart and give him more time. But watch what he gets instead. This is shocking.
“And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt….” He totally forgives the debt. He lets it go. He kills it. Jesus says the king did this out of pity. Again, I want to bring out the ancient colors behind that word. The root of the word pity is bowels. It signifies a feeling deep in the bowels. That is where the seat of compassion was believed to reside. So, this king felt compassion for this debtor a deep down inside of him kind of compassion.
Enter here gut reaction rather than the head reaction. Left headed vs right handed. Embracing death. What do I mean by that. Well, the king has died to his rights to collect the debt. He has torn up the debt and forgave him. But there is also another, unique and very important principle that Jesus is introducing in this parable. I want you to see it.
“The servant has to do nothing more than ask for grace to get grace. It is not that he earns it by extravagantly promising to repay everything at some future date. It is simply that the king cancels the debt for reasons entirely internal to himself. He ignores the manifest nonsense about repayment. He makes no calculations at all about profit and loss. Instead, he simply drops dead to the whole business of bookkeeping and forgives the servant. Wipes the debt out. Forgets it ever existed.” Capon
Consider the scene. The king says, “I want my money, sell him and his entire family and get me something!” “No wait,” the servant begs, “Please be patient and big hearted towards me.” “Wait! Scratch that,” the king says, “I change my mind. Let him go and cancel his debt altogether.”
What do you think is going through the servants mind? What is going to the other servants mind? how many times can this king do this. This day of settling accounts has just begun. Is this guy for real? Is this a trick? It certainly feels like trick. I think that might be something of what is going on in the minds of everyone present. But then the story gets even more shocking.
“But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii…” By now you should know that whatever a denarii is it can’t in any way compare to 10,000 talents. But, just to be thorough, a denarii was equivalent to a tenth of a silver coin. In the KJV it was translated as ‘penny’ or ‘pence.’ In the ASV its a ‘shilling.’ So this man owes the forgiven servant 100 pennies or maybe 100 dimes. Today it might be equivalent, as silver prices go, to about 100-200 dollars. Again, the point is Jesus is telling this story with shocking, radical, and unforgettable extremes.
“…and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you…’” The contrast is very clear. This guy, it seems, was just forgiven a kajillion bazillion dollars, but then goes immediately to some guy who who’s him a 100 bucks, at the most, and demands payment. And, this guy begs in the exact same way, “have patience with me, or again, be big hearted towards me, and I will repay you!” You may already know the story but lets pretend you don’t. What do you think is gonna happen next? How will the forgiven servant respond to this man who is pleading for patience?
“He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt…” Now if you’ve been paying attention to this story as Jesus is telling it you should respond by gasping and throwing your hand over your mouth. “How could he!? What a scum bag. Are you kidding me!?” Because it is obvious, so very obvious, how wicked and wrong this guy is. Everyone knows how he should have responded.
But wait… Let’s step back and think about this for a second. I mentioned earlier that everyone knows what he is supposed to do, but is that true? What is he supposed to do? I mean is he supposed to give patience. Meaning, give him more time to repay the debt. Or, is he supposed to give him grace and total forgiveness? Is that what he is supposed to do? I mean, just because you were forgiven a huge debt from some rich man, does that mean your supposed to forgive all the debts of all the poor men who owe you? I mean he’s still got to make a living doesn’t he. He still has a wife and some kids to feed. Do you think this guy should just toss out his book keeping altogether and walk away from what is rightfully his?
You see the question, even though it seems easy to answer, might not be that easy to answer. Because, if this guy is also a book keeper. Meaning he has books on others, and if we push this story to it’s clearest meaning, then it has to mean that he too, like the compassionate king, is going to have to die to his rights to collect on his books. He is going to have to give more than patience, he is gonna have to give forgiveness. Which also means that he is gonna have to get his income from somewhere else.
“How could anyone outside a comic book,” we ask ourselves, “actually fail to see that if you’ve just been forgiven a multimillion-dollar debt – and freed from slavery to boot – you don’t first-off go and try to beat a hundred bucks out of somebody who’s still a slave?” The unforgiving servant, however, is anything but a cartoon villain; he is, in fact, exactly what everybody else in the world is, namely, an average citizen totally unwilling to face death in any way.” Capon
Capon argues that this anti-hero, for now on referred to as the unforgiving servant, is just like you, and me. We are exactly like him, namely, we are normal human beings who are completely unwilling to die to ourselves, or rights, and are just deserts. Remember, the king died to his rights. The unforgiving servant can not die to his. This parable, although it is indeed about forgiveness, I want us to see that forgiveness is every bit about become the last, little, least, and dying to ourselves.
DISCUSSION: Do you think that you are just like the unforgiving servant? Explain.
“When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place…” The servants know what he was supposed to do. The all, with out a doubt recognize the shocking wickedness behind his inability to die to self. It is just that obvious to everyone – but him.
“Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’” The king tells it like it is. He calls him wicked because he did not recognize the kings grace, or death to his own rights, as an invitation, even a requirement, to die as well.
“The king sets out before the servant the two scenes he has just been through and he rubs the salt of them into the wound of the servant’s refusal to die. In each, there was a creditor with lawful rights; in each, a plea for patience from the debtor and a promise to repay. But then the king drives home the one, crucial difference. “I died for you, for Christ’s sake!” he says; “but you were so busy making plans for your stupid life, you never even noticed.” Capon
“And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.” So now, in his anger, the king places him in jail in order to pay his debt. This is a sad ending. 200,000 years in jail. But wait. The parable isn’t over yet. There is still more. It actually gets scarier.
“So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” So even though this is a parable of grace. Clearly, it is about forgiveness just for asking for it. Compassion from a big hearted God who uses left handed power – or death – in order to freely give patience, grace, and total forgiveness even for astronomical debts. It is also, a parable of judgment. And to be clear, that judgment is given to anyone who does not understand grace and forgiveness.
I mentioned at the beginning of this parable that this was going to be a lesson in dying. Forgiveness, in many ways is dying to self. I order to forgive, we have to die to our own rights. Die to our own needs and wants. We have to give up on self preservation. And judgment is given to those who refuse to die.
Forgiveness means refusing to make them pay for what they did. However, to refrain from lashing out at someone when you want to do so with all your being is agony. It is a form of suffering. You are absorbing the debt, taking the cost of it completely on yourself instead of taking it out of the other person. It hurts terribly. Many people would say it feels like a kind of death. ~Keller
“If we refuse to die – and in particular, if we insist on binding others’ debts upon them in the name of our own right to life – we will, by not letting grace have its way through us, cut ourselves off from ever knowing the joy of grace in us.” Capon
An unforgiving heart is an un-forgiven heart. If you can’t forgive it is because you aren’t forgiven. Timothy Keller gives 3 options that make this true: (1) bc you don’t think there is anything wrong with you, (2) bc you don’t feel forgivable, (3) bc you have forgotten that you have been forgiven.
By the way. This parable begins with the word, “Therefore.” That alerts us to something. It alerts us that there was something that went on before that might be important to the meaning or purpose of this parable. There is something in the context that explains why Jesus told the parable in the first place.
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22 ESV)
With out a doubt, this little parable is about forgiveness. It is about giving the same forgiveness that God has given you to others. No. Not the same. He has forgiven you a kajillion bazillion offenses, all that you need to forgive is very little in comparison. As we take a few minutes to approach the table of the lord reflect on these verses.
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24
And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” Mark 11:25
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:14-15