The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant Part 2
28 “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 30 And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. 32 Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ 34 And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.
35 “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses” (Matt. 18:28-35 NKJV).
The parable continues from the happy point at which we stopped: the servant who owed a debt too large ever to be repaid to the king had been forgiven his debt, the slate wiped clean by the king. The servant owes no money in spite of having incurred the debt. His debt is forgiven, his future with the king reestablished.
But now this same servant finds (whether intentionally or accidentally is unclear, but it is immediately) a fellow servant who owes him 100 pence. This is a small amount in contrast to the amount owed by the first servant, the amount forgiven by the king. The first servant, saved by grace, does not feel any need to extend the mercy of his master and king to his fellow servant.
The king’s response in the final two verses seems at odds with the loving God. Jesus says, “He who has seen Me, has seen the Father” (John 14:9), but these two verses do not seem like Jesus. We’ll get to that, but first things first.
The Forgiven Servant’s Opportunity
Note that the amount owed by man to man is extremely small compared to the debt owed by man to God. This is a universal truth.
In light of the huge debt just forgiven our first servant, not only is the amount smaller and more easily forgiven, the violence of the lender is out of proportion to the example of the king.
Our impenitent servant “laid his hands on him (the debtor) and took him by the throat, saying, ’Pay me what you owe!’” Again, the first servant ignores the example of his king and master.
As did the first servant, the second servant asks for patience and that he will repay. But whereas the king had shown not only patience but compassion, the first servant now shows neither.
We see the first servant betray the spirit of the mercy that he has received. This man had been a liar in his plea, knowing he could not repay, and yet the king had mercy on him. Now in the same position as the king, having the power to forgive, the first servant shows his hardened heart and casts the second servant into prison until the debt was paid.
The King’s Response, a parable
Remember, this is a parable of the kingdom of heaven, a story of what forgiveness is like.
In Matthew 13. Jesus tells the disciples why He speaks in parables and proceeds to tell them 8 parables of the kingdom of heaven.
The kingdom of heaven is like a pearl of great price, but it is not a pearl. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, and like a hidden treasure, but it is not a mustard seed and is not a hidden treasure.
A parable is not literal, but an attempt to explain something we humans have trouble understanding in terms that we do understand.
Matthew 13:12, “For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him,” states this concept perfectly, but even this verse is misunderstood. This is about spiritual understanding and enlightenment, not physical possessions.
In a similar manner, the king’s idea of punishment for the unforgiving servant, is given in parable language, punishments that we clearly understand in our all too human world. The punishments are like what men would do to one another: prison and torture until he paid the debt.
This is almost comical. How could someone in prison suffering torture ever have the means to get money to repay the debt? Inconceivable! The debt will never be repaid. (And if the imprisonment was to hold him hostage until his relatives or friends repaid the debt, why would they want to get such a person back even if they could?)
The Prison of Unforgiveness
Let us understand that the prison is unforgiveness. The debt to be paid is forgiveness. And we can do this at any time and be free.
What is the prison of unforgiveness like? It is a darkness shrouding the world, a coldness permeating the bones, the recurring bouts of conscience, the ache of remorse, the reproach of other people, the loss of relationship, anger, bitterness, and…like the symptoms of any disease, highly variable and specific to the individual.
Unforgiveness is one way of closing the door on the kingdom of heaven here and now. We forfeit the opportunity of hitting the mark and sharing in the prize. We choose not to “go to heaven.”
Whatever happens after death, we have shunned God’s kingdom now. Like the unforgiving servant, we are not unforgiven, but impenitent. We may not even know we are rejecting forgiveness by our own state of not forgiving.
We suffer the consequences here and now.
Yes, many are oblivious to their true state, unaware of what they have lost. Like cattle at their trough or pigs in their sty, we (for we are often the unfortunate “they”) often are unaware, oblivious to our true condition and to what is possible.
When we forgive, it is we who are freed from prison and the torturers..