During his ministry, Jesus frequently challenged conventional wisdom, and He also encouraged His followers to radically demonstrate God’s love. He often did this through the use of parables. Jesus used these short stories to relay important instructions and lessons in ordinary language. There are more than 30 parables in the Bible, each with its own dynamic lesson.
In Matthew 18:23-33, we Jesus uses the parable of the unforgiving servant to teach us about the gift of forgiveness. Of all the parables in the Bible, this may be one of the most difficult ones to hear because so many of us identify with the difficulty of forgiving.
When the disciple Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who has sinned against him, Jesus answers Peter’s guess of “Up to seven times?” with a shocking response: “Seventy times seven.” Then he follows up his answer with the parable.
“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 10,000 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.” — Matthew 18:23-27.
The servant is unable to repay his debt, but because the servant asks for mercy, he is set free and his debt is forgiven. There was mercy from the king who was moved by the servant’s genuine heart. However, this isn’t where the parable ends. There was another man who owed a small debt to this same forgiven servant. Even though this servant was fully forgiven by the king, he does not offer this same forgiveness to his debtor. Instead, he threatens and harms the debtor.
When the forgiving king hears about the unforgiving servant, he summoned him. “You wicked servant. 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?” — Matthew 18:32-33.
God asks us to surrender our unforgiveness to Him. This parable teaches us that what God graciously supplies is what is also expected of us. Many of us can see ourselves as the unforgiving character in a situation. We may accept grace from others but forget to extend it. Forgiveness is critical to our faith and compassion as Christians.