“But when that same servant went out he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him.”
In the last post we started to wrap up this series by looking at Matthew 18:21-35. In these verses Peter asks Jesus another question. This question follows Jesus’ teaching about how to deal with the sins of our brothers and sisters. Peter asks Jesus how many times he is expected to forgive a brother or sister. He gives a generous number: seven. But, Jesus responds with seventy-seven times.
When we read Jesus’ response it’s easy to wonder exactly what He meant by that. But, Jesus doesn’t leave us without some kind of explanation. Following His response, He tells a parable. In the first part of the parable a king wants to collect the debt of his servants. One servant owes him 10,000 talents, which is about the same as 200,000 years of work. The king is about to sell the servant and his family. But the servant pleads with him, begging for a chance to pay off the debt. The king, out of pity, releases the servant from his debt and lets him go free.
Now, let’s look at the second part of the parable.
A Smaller Debt
The servant has been graciously forgiven of a massive, impossible debt. (remember 200,000 years of work). As the servant leaves his master, he runs into another servant who owes him 100 denarii. It is still a large debt, but much smaller than 10,000 talents. He begins to choke the other servant and demands repayment for his debt. This servant is also unable to pay. But instead of showing the same mercy that was shown to him, the first servant throws the other in prison for the debt he owed. When the king finds out, he is angry with the first servant and throws him in prison.
The second half of the parable should be read in light of the first, and hopefully we can see a little of how it explains Jesus’ answer to Peter’s question.
In the first half of the parable, the servant owes the king an impossible debt. The debt he owes is beyond what most of us could imagine owing. But in the second half, the second servant still owes quite a lot, but not nearly as much.
How does this parable help you understand why Jesus says “seventy-seven times?” Take some time to pray about it. Take some time to really read through these verses several times.
God’s Mercy Should Move Us to Show Mercy
The mercy God gives us in forgiving our sins, which are many and deep toward Him, is huge. He forgives us and releases us from having to work 200,000 years to pay off our debt. Instead, He Himself pays the price for what we owe. We owe God our entire lives, and instead He gives us His. Really take some time and think about that. Let it sink in how great His mercy is toward us.
The sins other people commit against us are serious. As we saw in the last two posts, God takes the sin other people commit against us seriously. He wants us to confront other people about their sin toward us. But He also expects us to forgive them, like He forgives us.
The Standard of Forgiveness: God
Peter asks Jesus how many times we are supposed to forgive each other. He thinks, maybe seven is enough. But Jesus’ answer goes far beyond Peter’s thinking. With the parable He tells at the end of Matthew 18, Jesus shows that the standard for forgiveness is ultimately God. When a brother or sister sins against us, we need to remember how much we have sinned against God. Their sin is serious, and God takes it seriously. But He also takes our sin seriously too. We deserve mercy just as much as our brothers and sisters.
Think about that for a minute. We deserve as much mercy from God as everybody else. The truth is we don’t deserve any mercy at all. Neither does anyone else we know. But, God has shown those of us who believe in Jesus mercy anyway.
The compassion and care God shows us, should be how we measure our compassion and care toward other people.
How Can We Do Any Different?
One of my favorite songs several years ago was “Losing” by Tenth Avenue North. Mike Donehey, the lead singer, made a video talking about the song. In the video (which y’all can watch here), he talks about how if God has forgiven me so much, if His mercy toward me is so great, than why do I not treat other people that way. He says, “If Jesus is going to the cross and saying ‘Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing,’ then how can I say anything different?”
And that’s what Jesus teaches here. If God can release us from our impossible debt toward Him, how can we treat our brothers and sisters any different?
I think this is such a helpful parable to follow what Jesus taught up in verses 15-20. Jesus reminds us in this parable that as we follow the process He gave us, we need to remember God’s compassion and mercy toward us. We need as much as possible to extend the same grace to people who sin against us. We need to remember the God who goes in search of us when we stray. We need to remember that God does take our sin seriously, so we need to take the sins of others seriously also.
But we also need to remember that God cares for and has compassion for His children. When His children see their sin and repent, when they plead with Him for mercy, He does not hesitate to forgive and release them. And as we deal with our brothers and sisters we need to act in the same way. We don’t hesitate to show mercy and forgive.
And honestly, this often will require us to humble ourselves. We need to become like children, like Jesus did, in order to forgive people in the way Jesus describes here. Forgiving people is hard. But we can look to Jesus and remember He humbled Himself because God wanted to forgive us and release us from our sins. And if we are His children, if we are in Jesus, we will be able to show this amazing grace and mercy to other people.