15 April 2014
I recently read Jesus’ Parable of the Unforgiving Servant again (Matt 18:21–35). I was hit afresh by its power.
Peter comes to Jesus and asks him how many times he should forgive his brother who has sinned against him, seven times? Jesus responds by saying something like, “not enough Peter, seventy–seven times.” This recalls Gen 4:24 where Lamech swears to avenge himself seventy–seven times. It effectively means, “an unlimited number of times” (Hagner, Matt, 2.537).
Jesus then told a story to reinforce his point. It involved a king who wished to settle his accounts. One guy owed him 10,000 talents. Now the talent of silver varied in value but was worth something like 6,000 denarii. Now a denarius was the standard pay for a day’s labour. So this guy owed something like 60 million denarii (BDAG, 988). That is a ridiculous amount of money. In New Zealand terms, assuming an average wage of $14.25/hour (which is rubbish) or $114/8 hour day, this would amount to a debt of $6.84b NZD (it would be more because a day was more like 12 hours). That’s more than the richest Kiwi in 2013 Graeme Hart earned ($6.4b)! In other words, an impossible debt to repay. The master called the guy in and told him to pay up or he and his family would be sold as a result (not an endorsement of slavery, this is a story, but understandable in the times). The debtor not surprisingly pleaded for mercy from the master. Filled with pity, the master released him and let him off his nearly $7b debt.
Instead of the one relieved going away with an attitude of mercy and forgiveness to others, he went to one of the people who owed him 100 denarii. This is around 3 months of a labourer’s pay, around $11,400 NZD. This is still a substantial sum but nothing like nearly $7b! The man owing 100 denarii was unable to pay immediately so the creditor threw him in prison until he did. The king then heard about this, and was filled with anger recalling the debtor he had forgiven and throwing him into prison until he could pay the 10,000 talents back. One can immediately see the irony, because it is impossible to pay debts when earning nothing while in prison, let alone such a monstrous one. He was in prison forever.
Two things stood out to me as I read this story.
First, in Jesus Christ God in his mercy has provided extravagant forgiveness for us all. It doesn’t matter what we have done in the past, if we come to him in faith, humility, and genuine repentance seeking his mercy, we have it, period! God’s grace is sufficient for any debt. Any sinner, no matter how bad, can find forgiveness in Jesus.
Secondly, having received this level of forgiveness, we must show the same kind of mercy and forgiveness to others. People mess up. The news is full of it. Our challenge is to accept the extravagant forgiveness of God and pass it onto others. This is not easy when we are wronged, that is for sure. Yet, if we can find the mercy of the King, such forgiveness sets everyone free, ourselves included. And, “if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed” (John 8:36).