Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Unmerciful Servant

In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus tells His disciples a story about a servant that owes his king a great deal of money. The story has an interesting twist in that the servant has a friend that owes him money. Before Jesus begins the story, He has a short conversation with Simon Peter about forgiveness. The story illustrates the principle. Here's is how it plays out.

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.[g]
23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[h] was brought to him. 25 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.
26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[i] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

So it would seem that the servant owed his king a great deal of money. Chances are good that this servant was not a food and wine taster or butler. He was more likely a court official or maybe even a governor of a province in the king's kingdom. I say this because of what was owed. This man owed his king millions of dollars by our measure. A king would not loan this kind of money to his body servant. This particular servant probably had some juice of his own; he had power, but none over the king. 

Whoever this servant was, the king was ready to call in his loan. His servant did not have the cash. The king was not happy and ordered that his servant, family and possessions to be sold to pay the debt. The servant sued for mercy and the mercy was received. The king was magnanimous to the point of full forgiveness of the debt. This kind of grace was uncommon in the ancient world.

So the servant was freed from his debt; released from his responsibility. He must have felt good. He must have felt free. He was probably happy, peaceful and content. You would think so right? 

But such was not the case. After leaving the king's presence, this servant sought out another servant that owed him a mere 100 silver coins to force him to pay. The contrast is astounding. The first servant had owed 10000 bags of gold. His fellow servant owed him 100 silver coins; a mere pittance by comparison. Yet the servant that had been forgiven so much, was not merciful to his colleague. He demanded payment. When it was not forthcoming, the servant did to his colleague what the king saved him from. He had him thrown into debtor's prison.

The story did not end well. Word got to the king of what this wicked servant had done after being forgiven so much and so the king brought justice to bear. The man was thrown into prison to be tortured and to suffer until he paid the original debt. As you might be aware, you do not make money in prison; at least not enough to pay off a debt like his. So the wicked servant was probably imprisoned until he died.

Jesus concludes the story by saying that this is how God will deal with us if we do not forgive each other.
I have been this unmerciful servant. I do not want to be like him Lord. I am sorry for my failure to forgive. I repent of it. Please take my anger and wash it clean. Purify me so that I can serve again. I have unclean hands. Teach me to love and take responsibility for my brethren as they care for and are merciful to me. Please give me back my clean hands and pure heart and help me to turn away from the fear. It is evil. Help me Lord to do what is right...even if it kills me. In your name I pray these things..Amen     

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