PARABLE OF THE UNFORGIVING SERVANT
AUGUST 23, 2020
This morning’s Gospel reading is a parable, given by Jesus, in answer to Peter’s question: “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but seventy times seven.” Why seven? According to Jewish tradition, one must forgive a person who has sinned against them three times, so Peter thinks he is going above and beyond by suggesting seven! Jesus responds by saying one should forgive them up to seventy-seven times, a hyperbole meaning that there's really no limit to forgiveness!
So, to illustrate His point, Jesus tells Peter the story of a servant, actually a slave, and a king. The servant owes the king ten thousand bars of silver, a clearly un-payable debt. Since the servant can't ever hope to repay the debt, the king orders him and his family sold. The servant begs for time and patience. The king, being merciful, not only agrees, but in his compassion and mercy, cancels the servant’s entire debt!
Later on, this same servant leaves and encounters another one of the king’s servants, who just happens to owe him a hundred silver coins (a much smaller amount). This man also can't pay, so the unforgiving servant grabs him, chokes him, shakes him, and demands that payment be made immediately! When he is unable to comply, the first servant has him thrown into prison and has him tortured, hoping to secure the money. How can a man hope to receive money from a debtor who is broke? By throwing him into prison and having him tortured? It doesn’t make any sense, does it? Yes, unfortunately, it does. How? Unfortunately via his family, relatives, friends, etc. It’s a shakedown of all who love him, all who are desperate to bring him home healthy out of prison.
The king hears about these goings-on and calls the unforgiving servant back, and denounces him as wicked, Δοῦλε πονηρέ! he calls him, Servant! Sinner!! and asks him why he didn't show the same mercy that was shown to him? The unforgiving servant made no reply. He had no answer. He had no excuse. He is then thrown in prison to be tortured in order to pay off his original debt.
The key to understanding the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant is the analogy of sin as a debt. Christ's message in Matthew frequently revolves around the idea that we human beings, because of the fall of Adam, are constantly battling against the effects of that fall – the inclination toward sin. We sin. We fall. The more we sin, the more debt we collect. It piles up and piles up. We are imperfect and we inevitably sin against God and against our neighbor. In the parable, the king (God) has a servant (any human being) who has more debt than he could ever repay; more sins than could ever be atoned for on his own. It's only because the king forgives the servant, that the debt is expunged.
Brothers and Sisters! Why are we so easy on ourselves and so unforgiving of others? Why do we think our own transgressions are such minor offenses, and yet regard the same or similar transgressions by others towards us to be capital crimes? Who are we “to judge another man’s servant” asks St. Paul in Romans 14:4. That other servant belongs to God the King, not to us! If we react with mercy rather than maliciousness toward the sins and transgressions of others towards us, what benefit will there be? St. John Chrysostom tells us:
“First and greatest, deliverance from sins; secondly, fortitude and patience; thirdly, mildness and benevolence; for he that knoweth not how to be angry with them that grieve him, much more will he be ready to serve them that love him. Fourthly, to be free from anger continually, to which nothing can be equal. For of him that is free from anger, it is quite clear that he is delivered also from the despondency that arises out of it, and will not spend his life on vain labors and sorrows. For he that knows not how to hate, neither doth he know how to grieve, but will enjoy pleasure, and ten thousand blessings. So, we punish ourselves by hating others, even as on the other hand we benefit ourselves by loving them.
Having considered all these things, let us cast away all anger, resentment, bitterness, and harsh judgement, that God may forgive us also all our trespasses by the grace and love towards mankind of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom to the Father and the Holy Spirit be glory, might, honor, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.