Parables: The Unforgiving Servant

A parable that's been increasingly influential on me is the parable of the unforgiving servant:

Matthew 18.23-35
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 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.

“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
The parable is told as an answer to Peter's question, "How often am I to forgive? Is seven times enough?"  Jesus responds, "Not just seven, but seventy times seven." And then he goes on to tell this parable.

Now, intellectually speaking, the point of the parable is obvious, simplistic even. The servant has been forgiven a great debt, yet is unwilling to forgive a much smaller debt. I think everyone understands this point of the story. But my question is this: Do we actually live it?

What I mean is this: Do you live under a great burden of grace? Do you feel forgiven a great and massive debt? And has this emancipation affected your capacity to pay mercy forward? Does your moral life flow out of a great ocean of gratitude?

Again, I know this seems a simple Sunday School lesson, fit only for children. Intellectually, you're not having any trouble tracking with me. What I'm asking you about is if you've experienced this gratitude, in your heart. And if you have, has forgiveness given you a greater capacity to forgive? Has grace given you a greater capacity for grace? Has mercy given you a greater capacity for mercy?

Because grace rarely seems to translate into action. We claim God's love for ourselves, yet are petty and miserly in giving grace to others. We're vindictive and hold grudges.

What's going wrong?

It's my hunch that this goes wrong because we're not operating out of gratitude, not living out of a daily and felt realization that we've been extended a great mercy.

What I'm wondering about is the connection between gratitude and virtue, between gratitude and love, between gratitude and mercy.

If we really felt and operated out of gratitude, wouldn't our actions change in an instant? Wouldn't we become radically different people?

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