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The Unforgiving Servant



                    This parable was precipitated by Peter's question
                  to Jesus,

                   ..."Lord, how many times shall I forgive
                   my brother when he sins against me? Up to
                   seven times?

                        Jesus answered,  "I tell you, not
                   seven times, but seventy-seven times."
                   (Matthew 18:21-23, New   International

                        The Story

                     "Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is
                   like a king, who wanted   to   settle
                   accounts with his servants.  As he began
                   the settlement, a man who owed him ten
                   thousand talents was brought to him.
                   Since he was not able to pay, the master
                   ordered that he and his wife and his
                   children and all that he had be sold to
                   repay the debt.

                       "The servant fell on his knees before
                   him.  `Be patient with me,' he begged,
                   `and I will pay back everything.'  The
                   servant's master took pity on him,
                   canceled the debt and let him go.

                        "But when that servant went out,
                   he found one of his fellow  servants  who
                   owed  him  a hundred denarii.  He grabbed
                   him and  began to choke him.   `Pay  back
                   what you owe me!' He demanded.

                        "His  fellow  servant  fell  to  his
                   knees  and  begged  him, `Be patient with
                   me, and I will pay you back.'

                        "But  he  refused.  Instead, he went
                   off and had the man  thrown  into  prison
                   until   he could pay the  debt.  When the
                   other servants  saw  what  had  happened,
                   they  were  greatly distressed  and  went
                   and told their master everything that had

                     "Then the master called the  servant
                   in.  `You  wicked servant,' he  said,  `I
                   canceled all that debt of  yours  because
                   you begged me to.  Shouldn't you have had
                   mercy on your fellow servant  just  as  I
                   had on you?'  In anger his master  turned
                   him  over  to the jailers to be tortured,
                   until he  should  pay back all he owed.

                        "This is how my heavenly Father will
                   treat each of you unless you forgive your
                   brother  from  your  heart."     (Matthew
                   18:23-35, New International Version).

              The story begins with a king settling accounts with  his
         servants.    One servant who owed him 10,000  talents  (about
         12,000,000 dollars) was brought before him. Since the servant
         was unable to pay, the king ordered that he and his family be
         sold as slaves and all that he had be  sold  to  pay  on  the

              The servant fell down before  his king and begged him to
         be patient  until he could repay him.   The king had mercy on
         him, forgave the debt and let him go.

            The forgiven servant went out and found a fellow servant
         who owed him 100 denarii (20 dollars).  He grabbed him, began
         choking him and demanded that he pay him the small sum.
              His fellow  servant fell to  his knees and begged him to
         be patient until he could repay him.

              The forgiven servant refused to wait and had his  fellow
         servant thrown into prison until the debt was repaid. Other fellow
         servants saw what had happened and told the king.

             The king called in his wicked  servant  for  not  having
         mercy  and  canceling  the insignificant debt as the king had
         canceled his astronomical debt.  The king was furious and had
         him  turned over to jailers to be tortured until his debt was

                           The Interpretation
              The  story characters and the real people they represent

              1.  The king                    God
              2.  The servants               believers

         The debts and what they represent are:   

              3.  The 12,000,000 dollars     our debt of sin to God
              4.  The 20 dollars             the debt of wrong done to
                                             us by others

              Peter probably felt he was being generous in offering to
         forgive someone 7 times.  (Two Rabbis of that time had taught
         not to forgive more than 3 times).  Jesus replied that we
         should forgive 77 times, or it could be translated 70 times 7
         or 490 times.

               Jesus was using a literal figure to represent the  Christian ATTITUDE of
             forgiving others.

              In this parable, the unforgiving servant was probably a thief:  

              This  one WAS BROUGHT UNTO HIM; he never would have
              come of himself; he would have made that  ten  into
              twenty  thousand,  for  the  secure sinner goes  on
              treasuring up (Rom. ii 5) an even mightier sum,  to
              be  one  day  required of him.  In all probability,
              from the immensity of the debt, this man was one to
              whom  some  chief  post of honor and dignity in the
              kingdom had been committed,--a  satrap  who  should
              have  remitted  the revenues  of  his  province  to
              the royal treasury.  (Trench, NOTES ON THE PARABLES
              OF OUR LORD, p. 56).
              The king could have been an actual oriental monarch, and
         if  so,  the  figure  would have been appropriate.  Or, Jesus
         could have  been  using  hyperbole.    Jesus  was   actually
         emphasizing  the  utter  hopelessness  of our ever paying the
         immeasurable  debt  of sin that we owe.  The debt of sin must
         be forgiven by God. To symbolize this, it would be impossible
         to exaggerate  the figures.  (Earle, BEACON BIBLE COMMENTARY,
         MATTHEW, pp. 173-174).
              The  custom of the day was to sell the wife and children
         into slavery to help satisfy debts.  Another practice was  to
         have debtors jailed and tortured to reveal any hidden sources
         of  revenue.    [R.  G.  V.  Tasker,  TYNDALE  NEW  TESTAMENT
         COMMENTARIES,  MATTHEW    (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans,
         1976), p. 179].

              Barclay sees these lessons:

              1.  A man must forgive in order to be forgiven:  

                           Blessed are the merciful
                         for they will be shown mercy.
                                 (Matthew 5:7,
                          New International Version).
                        Speak and act as those who are going
                   to  be  judged  by  the  law  that  gives
                   freedom,  because  judgment without mercy
                   will be shown to anyone who has not  been
                   merciful.   Mercy triumphs over judgment!
                   (James   2:12-13,    New International Version).
              2.  There is  a  tremendous  contrast  between  the
              debts  in  the parable.  The  smaller debt could be
              carried  in one pocket.  The  larger  debt    would
              take  an  army of  8,600 carriers, each carrying 60
              pounds of money--at a distance of  one  yard  apart
              the  carriers  would  form  a line 5 miles long! We
              have been forgiven a debt  beyond  our  ability  to
              pay.  It  was paid by  the death of  God's own Son.
              Therefore  we  must   forgive  others  as  God  has
              forgiven  others, or  we can hope to find no mercy.
              (Barclay, DAILY BIBLE STUDY  SERIES,  MATTHEW,  pp.
              212 ff.).

                                 Central Truth

                 US OR WE WILL NOT BE FORGIVEN.
            Thank God for his grace and forgiveness.  Let us ask God
         To search our hearts and reveal all unforgiveness and
         grudges.  Then, with God's help, let us forgive everyone and
         give up all grudges.  END