Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 18:28a (Holman) But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him 100 denarii.
A denarius was one day’s wage for a common laborer. This second slave’s debt was equal to 100 working days, about one six-hundred-thousandths (1/600,000) of what the first slave had owed the king.
The suspense is riveting. How will the forgiven creditor treat his guilty debtor? What an opportunity this was to do to another as had been done to him. He could hereby show the king’s kindness was not wasted. But brace yourself.
Matt. 18:28b He grabbed him, started choking him, and said, “Pay what you owe!”
This parable, which began with a king’s compassion, now plummeted to a forgiven servant’s cruelty. He grabbed and choked the debtor before giving him a hearing. The brutal servant had already decided: “Guilty! Guilty!”
Roman law allowed this kind of cruelty. A creditor could seize a debtor and drag him before a judge. Cicero, the Roman statesman, said, “Lead him to the Judgment Seat with a twisted neck.” Writers recorded instances of a man’s neck being twisted so violently that blood came from the mouth and nose.
At this point in the parable, our response should be stunned silence, overwhelming shock. Surely the forgiven slave would have left the king with a thankful, humble heart, determined to be kinder and more forgiving than ever.
No. His having been forgiven did not make him forgiving. He’s one of the many who are 100% in favor of forgiveness when they are its recipients.
Rather than be grateful and humble, he was puffed up with presumption and pride. Gratitude would have made him want to please the king; presumption made him forget he was not yet beyond the danger of displeasing the king. Humility would have caused him to want to be considerate of others; pride made him hate the thought of having to do a kindness to one in his debt.
Beware being flippantly careless with the kindnesses of God. Our hearts are deceitful, creative in finding ways to abuse His mercies to us. He gives us good health, yet we don’t use our bodies to serve Him. He provides us money, yet we rationalize our failure to tithe. He gives us talents, yet we use them for secular, but not sacred, purposes. He forgives us, yet we don’t forgive others.
Unforgiveness is an unwise stewardship of God’s grace. If His mercies toward us do not better us by making us grateful and humble, they can produce in us a presumption and pride that will make us worse, and lead us deeper into the ugly vortex of extreme selfishness. Unforgiveness says it’s all about us. It says we value people not for their own inherent infinite God-given worth, but for what they can do for us. Forgiveness shows we know God values others.
Matt. 18:29-30 At this, his fellow slave fell down and began begging him, “Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.” But he wasn’t willing. On the contrary, he went and threw him into prison until he could pay what was owed.
The cruel slave did not soften, even when he heard the echo of his own plea for mercy. The voice that had begged the king now barked; hands that had been on the ground, extended, pleading for mercy, now throttled a man’s throat.
Too harsh. Too cruel. Too human. We miss the point if we think his disgusting behavior meant he was a monster. The lesson is, we are all like him.
You say, “But Pastor, this is bizarre!” Yes it is, and that’s the whole point Jesus tried to make. It is bizarre when Christians won’t forgive offenders.
An unforgiving Christian is a contradiction. This parable is inconceivable to us till we remember we are all, to varying degrees, guilty of the same crime.
The servant’s motives in asking the king’s forgiveness had been all wrong. If asking God for forgiveness, check your motives. Do we want to be made better as a result, or do we merely hope to escape His wrath? If our desire is solely to not be punished, our prayer request is as selfish as the original sin.
We find true forgiveness hard to grant because we often fail to recognize how much God forgave us. By underestimating how horrible our sins are, we underestimate the full extent of God’s grace toward us. As we more accurately weigh how much we have been forgiven, we’ll find it easier to forgive others.
A good litmus test of how well we are doing in weighing the real weight of our sins is to gauge whether or not the trespasses of others against us anger us more than do the sins of others against God. Unforgiveness is haughty, vaunting itself even above concern for God. If we are less upset about offenses people commit against God than we are about offenses against us, it proves we think it’s worse to offend us than to sin against God. This attitude is wrong.
The Psalms guide us here. David responded graciously to offenses against himself. “Those who seek my life set traps, and those who want to harm me threaten to destroy me; they plot treachery all day long. I am like a deaf person; I do not hear. I am like a speechless person who does not open his mouth” (Psalm 38:12-13).
On the other hand, the Psalmist responded grievingly when God was sinned against. “My eyes poured out streams of tears because people do not follow Your instruction” (Psalm 119:136). These passages reveal to us the huge disparity between sins against us versus sins against God.
Because of who He is, compared to what we are, all our sins are heinous, no matter how small we measure them. Every sin against God is a huge affront, containing rebellion against the Sovereign of the Universe. Sins are not venial and mortal. Some sins yield worse consequences, but all equally offend God.
Once we acknowledge this reality, we will be better able to recognize the huge disparity between what we owe God, and what others owe us. To God we owe Fort Knox; others owe us a penny. The difference is as vast as whales compared to gnats, miles vs. inches, the speed of light contrasted with snails.
Most affronts against us are relatively small, mere trifles: a word, a look, a slight. We are guilty of doing many of these wrongs to others ourselves. We are guilty of talking negatively about people; we all have anger moments (some are better at hiding theirs); we all forget at times to help or honor someone.
The affronts against us are, in our own estimations, usually the precise size our temperaments make them. Some possess the blessing of being able to make big injuries small; others have the curse of making small offenses big.
The choice is stark. We can be like a jogger who, as he runs, throws stones, especially big ones, out of his backpack; or like one who is always being sidetracked, stopping to pick up stones, especially big ones, to put in his backpack. For the former, life is a blessing; for the latter life is a burden.
And yet, despite this startling parable and all our admonitions, some of us here today are going to walk out of church actually feeling proud of the fact no one will rub us the wrong way this week without paying dearly for it. It’s interesting and tragic that we can glory in the very attitude Jesus condemned. I pray God uses these lessons to help place in us gentler, more forgiving, hearts.