Monday, April 26, 2010

Following Jesus - The Unmerciful Servant

"Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 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.

"The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

"But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.

"His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'

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

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

"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." Matthew 18:23 - 35

Once again, Jesus is blowing open the boundaries of something that most of us would rather be kept boxed. Forgiveness. The thing is, here He is explaining why.

A king calls in a servant who owes him ten thousand talents. This is a huge amount of money. Millions. It's more than any servant would ever be able to pay. Because the servant can't pay it, the king is going to sell him and his family and all his belongings to recoup his losses. The servant begs for time to pay the king back, an empty promise if ever there was one. There is no way he can do this, but in times of great stress, promises are easy to make, if hard to keep. The king had pity on him, and canceled the debt.

Canceled the debt. That's an easy point to miss. He didn't let his servant go in hopes that he would get paid back. He knew it wouldn't happen. Imagine the feeling. The huge weight of debt and destruction is lifted. The servant went from a destroyed life to one of hope as the debt that has been hanging over him for so long is gone.

How would you feel in his place? As you left the palace, what would be going through your mind and heart? Would you be shaking from gratitude and excitement? Would you be eager to go home to tell your family the good news? Would you be joyful, relieved, even tearful?

We can tell a lot about a person and what they are feeling by the way they behave. And this is the way the servant behaved. He went out and found a fellow servant who owed him a hundred denarii, the equivalent of maybe twenty dollars. When his friend could not pay him, the servant grabbed him, roughed him up and had him thrown into debtor's prison until he could pay the money back.

Of course, the king hears about the incident, as kings are wont to do, and iss outraged. He can not understand how, having had such a large debt canceled, the servant could go out and show no mercy to one who owed him so little. He throws the unmerciful servant into prison to be tortured until he could pay back all he owed, which was effectively, for the rest of his life.

Then Jesus adds the clincher.

"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."

How could it be, that one who had been forgiven a debt so large could still feel justified in punishing one in debt to him? What was he thinking? We really don't have to go too far to get more insight into this. For many of us, it's as close as our own hearts. We shake our heads at the unmerciful servant, but we have all been forgiven huge sin debts. We've experienced the beginning of the story first hand if we have asked Jesus to forgive our sins, to cancel our sin debt. Jesus is talking to us, about us. If we have experienced the first half of the story, then we need to look at how we have done in the "forgiving others" part. This is important, because our King knows what's in our hearts. And the consequences, when the King sees us being unmerciful to someone who hurts us while He has shown such mercy to us...well, Jesus paints a picture of the consequences that should make us shudder.

There's no point in thinking that we can glide past the castle and escape the eye of the King, who, after all, loves us. The king in Jesus' parable cared for his servant so much, he canceled the debt without even being asked to. This is about a king who loves all his servants.

If we really look at it, it's all very practical. It should be easy to forgive each other when we have been forgiven of so much. I believe, as in many spiritual battles, this one begins in the mind. We become deceived and confused because of lies we believe, and the result is disastrous. Our wills and anger are strengthened by what we choose to believe. Freedom comes with confession of the lies, a desire for yet more forgiveness for allowing ourselves to be deceived, and a renewing of our minds through God's power in us.

Tomorrow I will address some of the lies that we can fall into, some things the unmerciful servant might have been thinking that led to his actions. This is important stuff, because we, like the unmerciful servant, have access to more freedom than we can imagine. That's if we don't mess it up on the way home.

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