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Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

A look at Matthew 18:21-35

· Matthew,Mercy,debt,forgiveness,compassion

Today we’re talking about forgiveness and what it’s like to be forgiven of a great debt. Think back to a time when you were a kid, and you might have done something irreparable. That “baseball through the window” moment or that “wishing you could take back what you said”.

One time when I was younger, there were a bunch of little kids playing out front of our house and our parents were gone. We climbed the roof with our airsoft guns and started shooting the kids. All the neighbors saw was people with guns on the roof… that didnt end very well… We’ve all done things that we can’t take back, maybe your mistakes were like these...hopefully not… We’ve all had those “oh no” moments in life. How have those felt for you?

Talk about a time you did something irreparable.

How did you feel immediately after it happening?

Was there any way for you to fix it?

As we look at our text today, we’re examining another one of Jesus’ parables. He’s talking about a man who owes someone a great deal of money, and may have felt like he was in an “oh no” position in life, unable to payback his debt.

Matthew 18:21-35
The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 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. 26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

Let’s pause here for a moment. This is that “oh no” moment being forgiven. This is dad coming to the broken window and saying “it’s okay son, we’ll fix it”. This is the biggest moments in our lives when we are facing something that we have done wrong or messed up, and the one we owe a debt to says, “you are forgiven”.

What does it feel like to be forgiven?

Unfortunately this isn’t where this parable ends:

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

There’s a lot to unpack in this text, but let’s focus first on how quick this man was to withhold his forgiveness from the person who owed him something. How easy is it for you to forgive someone? I think we like the idea of forgiveness, especially when we are the once receiving, but it’s really easy for us to hold grudges or to not forgive or to get up in arms toward other people. Even in myself I notice this desire to be able to forgive people, but it’s coupled with this desire to be right, or this desire to be better than other people. It’s right next to this thing inside of me that says I have to point out where someone else is wrong, and I can’t just let people off the hook because then they’d be taking advantage of me, and if I do that too many times then everything I have is eventually going to be taken advantage of and I have to take care of what’s mine and protect what’s mine. Do you see how easy or how quickly we can get to that point? Even after we have been forgiven much, I think it’s easy for us to hold other people to standards or to not offer forgiveness in the way we’ve been shown it.

When have you found it hard to forgive someone?

Why do you think it was so difficult?

One of the things I struggle with when it comes to forgiveness is “yeah but what about them?”. I think it comes naturally for us to compare ourselves to one another. We often use comparison as a tool to judge whether we’re doing better or worse than other people. There’s actually some bible that talks about this. Let’s back up to last year when we were in Matthew 7 and recall this text:

Matthew 7:3-5

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

It’s pretty easy to say “but you don’t know how they hurt me” or “but it’s not fair what they did”. I think there’s definitely a place to work through hurt that has happened to us. I’m not saying to just suck it up and fake it through immense pain. What I think we often times forget in these moments is how much we’ve really been forgiven. As we prepped for this week we looked a little bit into how much the servant of this parable actually owed his master. Turns out, it was a lot of money.In the greek, writings say that this man owed “ten thousand talents”. A single talent was worth about 20 years of the average laborer’s wages.

So, you do the math…

20 years x 10,000 = 200,000

This guy owed 200,000 years worth of wages. That’s an astronomical amount of money, impossible to pay.

In today’s wages: $11,200,000,000

There is no way that the servant in this parable would have been able to pay off this debt. He needed forgiveness of the debt, that was literally his only way out from underneath it.

What does it feel like to owe a debt that you know you can’t pay off?

What does it feel like to have that debt paid on your behalf?

We have moments in life when we experience extreme forgiveness. When we are extended extreme grace and undeserved mercy. These moments are so powerful, and yet so easy to forget if we don’t purposely remember them. This servant, as soon as he left the presence of his master, seems like he forgot what had even transpired and went back to doing life as usual. He didn’t let the forgiveness he was offered change every area of his life.

We have been forgiven much, but I think sometimes we keep God’s forgiveness toward us in a box. We don’t allow it to change us and influence everything we do, and we still hold others accountable for their sins against us. While we should not ignore when we’ve been hurt, I think Jesus desires for us to live from a place of realizing the extreme grace we’ve been extended, and to then extend that grace toward others in our lives.

The part of the Lord’s prayer makes a lot more sense in this context:

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who’ve sinned against us.

Wrestle with this today. Allow God’s grace and forgiveness to affect everything you do. Ask him to show you how much you’ve been forgiven, and ask him to help you to extend forgiveness to others who’ve sinned against you.

In what ways are you forgetting the forgiveness that you’ve been offered?

In what ways can you extend greater forgiveness to others?

Take it deeper questions:

  • What’s the largest debt you have been in?
  • Have you had a moment where you knew it would be impossible to pay off a debt?
  • What does it feel like to owe someone something?
  • When have you taken pity on someone?
  • When was the last time you were forgiven?
  • When has someone’s request to you moved you to action or compassion?
  • Do you find it difficult to forgive people for wronging you or hurting you?
  • What could you buy with 200,000 years wages? (today’s currency: $7.4 billion)
  • Can you imagine being $8,000,000,000 in debt? How would you pay it back?
  • Difference between “I will pay this all back” and “I cannot pay this debt”
  • Why is it so easy keep score?
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