The Unmerciful Servant

Matt 18 v. 21 – 35 – the unmerciful servant.

The Lord’s Prayer asks that God forgives us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. To reinforce this in Matthew 6:15 Jesus says …if you do not forgive others then your father will not forgive your transgressions.

That’s not always easy. We’ve all been hurt by someone at sometime. Be it by a stranger cutting us up on the road or small hurts caused by family and friends. What varies is how we demand repayment. We may not ask the offenders to make us a literal payment but we do have other ways of settling score. Even as Christians.

Silence This is a popular technique….Ignore them when they speak.

Distance Walk away when they come near


Nagging….. A great one with parents.

Some of us have adopted the attitude that if I’ve been wronged and I can spoil one hour, one afternoon, one day of yours, I am content. I am not about to let you heal until I do. As long as I suffer you will suffer. In some cases I’ll reopen wounds myself to make you feel bad. We start the habit innocently enough indulging our hurts with doses of anger. The rush numbs the hurt. We become drugged on malice and the roles become reversed we are no longer victims but victors. We feel good but lose perspective. Soon we hate them and anyone like them. How will I settle this score? Or break the cycle? How many payments must I demand to get even? Peter had the same question to ask of Jesus.“Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Matthew 18:21

Peters worried about over forgiving for an offence. Jewish law stipulates a three time minimum but Peter is willing to more than double this but Jesus didn’t seem impressed. His answer probably left the listeners reeling.

“I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

If you’re pausing to work the sum out you’re missing the point.

Keeping tabs on your mercy, Jesus is saying, is not being merciful. If you have to measure out your grace you’re not being gracious.

At this point some listening to Jesus may be thinking about events in their life.

The Father who abandoned them as a kid

The spouse who left them for a newer model

The Boss who has made them redundant when money is important

Jesus silences them with a raised hand and the parable of the Unmerciful servant.

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24“When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25“But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26“So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ 27“And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt

This servant had a serious problem. His debt was far greater than his power to repay. Isn’t this like our debt to Christ which is far greater than our power to repay. Our pockets are empty while our debt is in the millions. It’s not a big salary we need, it’s a Gift. It’s not a place of work we need; it’s someone to work in our place. Jesus is that someone.

God has forgiven us a debt we cannot imagine. Does he demand reimbursement? Like Shylock does he insist on his pound of flesh? When you look twice at something you should never look once at does he blind you?

When you use your tongue for profanity instead of praise, does he cut it out?

He demanded no payment…………………at least not from us.

All those promises we make

“just get me through this mess God. I’ll never disappoint you again”. We’re as bad as the debtor. Though he never begs for grace he receives it, and leaves the Kings chamber debt free.

But he doesn’t believe it.

28“….that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ 29“So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ 30“But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed.

Are these the actions of a man forgiven millions and set free, or is it the mark of someone, so preoccupied by the mistakes of his brother that he misses the grace of his Father? A parallel seen in the Prodigal Son by the anger of the brother against the backdrop of the compassion of the prodigals father.

His demands on the servant don’t make sense but hatred never does.

How can the servant make money?

We may ask How can one forgiven not forgive? Jesus gives us the answer in Luke 7:47

“the person who is forgiven only a little, will love only a little”

To believe we are debt free is not easy. Even if we are stood before the throne of the King, we still doubt. The result of this is many are only forgiven a little. Not because the Kings grace is limited but because the faith of the sinner is small.Some miss that God is willing to forgive all. To wipe the slate clean.

God guides us to a pool of mercy and invites us to bathe.

Some of us plunge in, but others just test the temperature with their toes. These leave feeling unforgiven.

The servant still felt in debt. He hates the man he tries to choke, not for the debt but for reminding him of his debt to his king.

Many today have not come to understand fully what Christ did for us on the cross and therefore have difficulty in accepting the forgiveness given freely.

The king forgave the debt but the servant never fully accepted the kings grace.

This explains why the writer of Hebrews 12:15 insisted

See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled

The more we immerse ourselves in grace the more likely we are to give grace.

Could this be the clue to coping with anger and hatred. Could it be the secret is not in demanding payment but in thinking of the payment of our saviour.

Someone breaks a promise…before taking action answer this….How did God react when you broke your promises to him?

You’ve been lied to…before doubling your fists….How did God respond when you lied to him?

You’ve been neglected or forgotten….Have you never neglected God? How did he react?

The Unmerciful servant teaches us that the key to forgiving others is to stop focusing on the wrongs they did to you and to start focusing on what God did for you.

You may be thinking, Barrie thats not fair! Somebody has to pay for what they did.

I agree. Someone must pay.

But they already have.

You don’t understand Barrie. They don’t deserve grace or mercy. They’re not worthy of forgiveness.

I’m not saying they are.

But are you?

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