The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church* sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven* times.
‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents* was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii;* and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister* from your heart.’
These teachings of Jesus touch on one of the most important aspects of Christian faith, forgiveness. Often in Christian circles, forgiveness is thought of in terms of a person being forgiven by God. In this passage, however, Jesus is instructing the disciples about forgiving one another. With what might seem like an unreasonable standard, Jesus instructs the disciples that they must forgive someone who sins against them seventy seven times. In Luke’s version of this saying, the response to this teaching is “Lord, increase our faith!”, nicely capturing that this requirement of constant forgiveness seems beyond our capacity to fulfill.
In thinking about this passage, help me to ponder any or all of the following:
1) When have I needed forgiveness for something I have done?
2) Is there ever a time when it is not only understandable but right to refuse to forgive someone?
3) After I forgave someone important to me or was forgiven by someone important to me, how did that relationship change?
4) Jesus’ parables often have a straightforward meaning, and a more metaphorical meaning. What does the parable say directly? What might it be trying to hint at?
5) What details of the parable are confusing or not readily understandable to modern readers?
John Edgerton, BA, M.Div.