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The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

Rev. Michael Calvert, Ph.D., July 7, 2019
Part of the The Parables of Jesus series.

This coming Sunday we will consider another one of our Lord’s parables that is recorded in Matthew. This parable is discovered in 18:23-35, and is typically referred to as ‘The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.’ It is one of the more well-known of Jesus’ parables. The subject of this moving story is forgiveness, and forgiveness on a scale that overwhelmingly exceeds all normal expectations.

Like all of the parables of our Lord, it is critical to see this one within its context, or setting. The wider setting for this story is revealed in verse 15 where Jesus teaches how His disciples are to deal with relational sins and offenses: “If your brother sins against you. . . .” Then, the immediate context is discovered in Peter’s question to Jesus in verse 21 about this matter of forgiving personal offenses: “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

In answer to this question, Jesus provides the parable that we find in verses 23-35. And be careful to note that once again, Jesus is comparing the eternal “kingdom of heaven” to something earthly. This time it is like “a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.”

Matthew 18:21-35

21Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? 22Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. 23Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. 24And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. 25But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 27Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. 28But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. 29And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 30And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. 31So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. 32Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: 33Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? 34And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. 35So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses. (KJV)