I sometimes think a modern version of Jesus’ story of the unmerciful servant should go like this:
Once upon a time, there was a good man who was owed £10,000 by his friend. Seeing his friend on the high street and feeling very generous, this good man decided to forgive the debt instead of pursuing legal action. Now others from the neighborhood witnessed this act of kindness and told the local banker, the richest man in town.
The banker looked at his accounts and realized that this good man owed him a million pounds. Being a generous man himself, he called a press conference with the local media to announce to the city that he was going to forgive the million pound debt of the good man.
But that’s not the story Jesus told us. Here’s the story Jesus gave:
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 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. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’
And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 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.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.
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. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matt 18:23-35)
The king was the first to forgive. Forgiveness didn’t start with the servant – it started with the king. The king started the chain reaction of forgiveness which should have led the servant forgiving his fellow servant. But because of the servant’s failure, Jesus finishes with a negative in verse 35: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
At times, we all like to think we’re “the good man” who does such amazing acts of kindness that the king (or rich banker) will forgive our debts in front of the watching world. But that’s not what the Bible teaches. That’s not the way God works. He offers forgives to those who don’t deserve it. He offers forgiveness to those who least deserve it.
And in the freedom of forgiveness, God empowers us, by his Spirit, to actually forgive others.
That’s a the way the story goes. And that’s a really good story.