New Testament · Parables · Simple Truths

Parable Surprises – Unmerciful Servant

This parable has caused me many hours of concern and confusion, once I let it speak to me without a set of doctrinal lenses attached to my reading eyes. May only those who are brave enter!

Let’s take a look at

Matthew 18:23-35

23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 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, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Questions to Consider

Who were the audience?

Peter asked for it. Oh not directly, but Peter wasn’t the quiet one, and we can be thankful for his impetuousness, since this parable is so instrumental, so foundational for a believer. But I am getting ahead of myself.

When did the Lord give this parable?

This parable was given near the end of a period of withdrawal from Galilee, aprox. 6 months prior to entering into Jerusalem for the last time

Where did the Lord teach the parable?

Jesus and His disciples were in Galilee

Why did the Lord give this message?

Peter was trying to justify himself. Peter, I believe was intending to impress the Lord, you know, he was going to offer up the effort of forgiving his brother seven whole times! Very impressive!!!

What was the message for the original audience?

Jesus responds to this “impressive” claim of Peter’s with a very surprising requirement. Forgive 490 times. 490 times, and this begs the questions, that I have to keep count? At the 491st I can withhold forgiveness? Don’t be foolish Carl!

Let’s look at how the original audience may have heard this parable.

Jesus speaks of forgiving a brother 490 times and then gives this parable. And remember, He is speaking to a disciple!

Servant #1 is bankrupt and owes a trillion bucks to his master. Servant #1 begs for patience from the master, and claims he will pay everything. There is no way the man can pay the debt! Here we see servant #1 in his ignorance.

The Master forgives servant #1 of all his debt. Note that not only did the master forgive him of his debt, he released him. To release may be referring to simply dismissing the servant. The term may also refer to setting a servant free, as in releasing a servant or slave from ownership. This is not expressly stated, but the generosity of the master is such that this may entirely be the intent of the term. The master released servant #1 of his financial debt, his legal obligation of servanthood, his family’s impending sale into slavery. Imagine this unbounding generosity!

Servant #1 went out. He went out and expressed an unchanged character. Prior to his time before the master, he had fallen into massive debt, which implies to me that he was a greedy man, seeking to cut business deals to have an easy life, a life of luxury and excess, and it all backfired. (Totally my imagination running wild here!)

Servant #1 went out and continued in his life of greed. This greed brought him to servant #2. Servant #2 owed servant #1 owed him 0.000000014th of the amount he had been forgiven. He had a legal right to demand payment, and was seriously looking for the buck. He actually started choking servant #2. What is with this guy?

Servant #2 spoke the very same words to servant #1 that servant #1 had spoke to the master. The very same words! Servant #2 ended up in prison. How dense is servant #1?

Servant #3 and his buddies saw this going on and ratted servant #1 out. How could they not?

So the master called in servant #1 to his office, reminded him of the forgiveness shown to him, and threw him in jail.

His forgiveness was repealed! WHAT????

By the way, those that oversaw the jail were sometimes called torturers, so this is turning out some bad for servant #1.

What is the message for us today?

So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.



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