To Be Like Yeshua Means – To Understand Who Is the Greatest in The Kingdom
In my last post, we introduced the concept of forgiveness. In this post, we’ll exam another parable that states Yeshua’s teaching on forgiveness.
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
“Because of this [Yeshua’s instruction to Kefa to forgive seventy times seven], the Kingdom of Heaven may be compared with a king who decided to settle accounts with his deputies. Right away they brought forward a man who owed him many millions; and since he couldn’t pay, his master ordered that he, his wife, his children and all his possessions be sold to pay the debt. But the servant fell down before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ So out of pity for him, the master let him go and forgave the debt. But as that servant was leaving, he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him some tiny sum. He grabbed him and began to choke him, crying, ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ His fellow servant fell before him and begged, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused; instead, he had him thrown in jail until he should repay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were extremely distressed; and they went and told their master everything that had taken place. Then the master summoned his servant and said, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt just because you begged me to do it. Shouldn’t you have had pity on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And in anger his master turned him over to the jailers for punishment until he paid back everything he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat you, unless you each forgive your brother from your hearts.” Matthew 18:23-35
This parable is recorded only in Matthew and illustrates the need for unlimited forgiveness in the body of Yeshua. The Believers, already part of the Kingdom of Heaven must therefore forgive in the following manner. The presiding king decides that he wants to go over the books with his accountant and settle up on accounts receivable and accounts payable. These deputies probably would be court officials, powerful men in their own right. These were not slaves or servants in the strict meaning of the words, yet they were subservient to the king. Until modern times, kings had absolute power over their subjects.
Probably the man first brought before the king was a tax collector who gathered revenue for the king from a certain province. The huge sums of money that passed through his hands might have provided a temptation to borrow or even embezzle. So this man, when called upon, found himself in debt for a huge sum of money. In today’s currency, the servant owed his master about $7.2 billion dollars, assuming $15.00 per hour minimum wage.
The man couldn’t pay the king the debt he owed, so the king ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold. The sale of family as well as possessions to pay debts was common in ancient times. Considering the sum, this would be no more than a drop in the bucket against the debt. Since no family could ever be worth that much money, the illustration reveals the king’s anger against one of his officials.
The official humbly fell down before the king and begged for patience. Although his promise to pay back everything shows that he might be willing to try, in reality it would probably be impossible. Yet the merciful king went beyond the servant’s request. Instead of merely giving him more time, he let him go and forgave the debt. This highly unlikely turn of events would have surprised Yeshua’s listeners. No king would forgive such a huge debt. The king set aside a huge debt, rightfully owed to him, and let the man go free. The man’s desperate plight caused the king to take pity on him. What an incredible load must have been taken from his shoulders! Unfortunately, the story didn’t end here.
When that servant left, he apparently ran into one of his fellow servants (probably a subordinate) who owed him some tiny sum, amounting to about $12,000 in today’s dollars. He grabbed him and began to choke him, demanding the repayment. Instead of sharing with his friend the joy of his own release, the servant mistreated his friend and demanded that he pay the debt. Twelve thousand would still be a somewhat significant amount, for it represented about hundred days’ wages for a common laborer. But compared to the billions, it was extremely small. Yeshua’s point was to show the ungratefulness of this forgiven man to be so cruel and exacting of his fellow servant for such a relatively small sum.
This second servant echoed the request of the first servant. He also fell before him and begged for patience and time. He did not request cancellation of the debt; instead, he promised to repay it. The only difference between these two scenarios was that this second servant’s request was not impossible. He would be able to repay his debt given a little bit of time. But the first servant refused, having the man thrown in jail until he should repay the debt. This was not unusual.
In Bible times, serious consequences awaited those who could not pay their debts. A person lending money could seize the borrower who couldn’t pay and force him or his family to work until the debt was paid. The debtor could also be thrown into prison, or his family could be sold into slavery (as the king had planned to do to his deputy) to help pay off the debt. It was hoped that the debtor, while in prison, would sell off his landholdings or that relatives would pay the debt. If not, the debtor could remain in prison for life. Compared to what the first servant had been forgiven, his refusal to forgive another was appalling.
Apparently, other court officials thought his behavior was appalling as well: “When the other servants saw what had happened, they were extremely distressed; and they went and told their master everything that had taken place.”
For some reason, the first servant just didn’t understand. After being forgiven billions of dollars, he threw into prison a fellow servant who owed him twelve thousand dollars. But before he continued too far on his merry way, he found himself summoned back to the king. The king, who had been so merciful, angrily reproved the servant for accepting forgiveness and then being unwilling to extend forgiveness to another. The king’s question was rhetorical. Of course, the servant should have had mercy on his fellow servant (see Matthew 6:14-15). In light of all that God has forgiven us, how can we refuse to forgive the small hurts that we experience?
The Golden Rule Revisited: Our forgiveness of others should be in proportion to what God has done for us. If you need a favor, extend the same favor to someone who needs it from you. If you need help, offer to help someone else. First, we discover that problems can be solved, and second, we find that serving others is God’s way of helping us overcome difficulties in our own lives. Because God gives so generously to us, we ought to give generously to others. Life goes better when we follow God’s lead.
“And in anger his master turned him over to the jailers for punishment until he paid back everything he owed.” The king was so angry that he turned the man over to the jailers. While torture was forbidden by Jewish law, it was widespread in the ancient world and was used in order to force people to reveal sources of money that could be used to repay their debts. Getting into debt was serious business in the ancient world. To be forgiven of a debt was almost unheard of in pagan circles. Because this man would not forgive another, the king decided not to forgive his debt either. Instead, the man would be tortured until he paid back the billions he owed. This man effectively received a life sentence.
The king in the parable represents the heavenly Father and pictures His role as judge. Because God has forgiven all our sins, we should not withhold forgiveness from others. Realizing how completely Yeshua has forgiven us should produce a free and generous attitude of forgiveness toward others. When we don’t forgive others, we are saying that we appreciate God’s love and forgiveness but that we’re unwilling to give it to anyone else.
The world’s worst prison is the prison of an unforgiving heart. If we refuse to forgive others, then we are only imprisoning ourselves and causing our own torment. Some of the most miserable people I have met have been people who would not forgive others. They lived only to imagine ways to punish these people who had wronged them. But they were really only punishing themselves. What was wrong with this man? The same thing that is wrong with many professing Believers: They have received forgiveness, but they have not really experienced forgiveness deep in their hearts. Therefore, they are unable to share forgiveness with those who have wronged them.
If we live only according to justice, always seeking to get what is ours, we will put ourselves into prison. But if we live according to forgiveness, sharing with others what God has shared with us, then we will enjoy freedom and joy.
Kefa asked for a just measuring rod; Yeshua told him to practice forgiveness and forget the measuring rod. Our Lord’s warning is serious. The theme of this parable is forgiveness between Believers, not salvation for lost sinners. Yeshua warned us that God cannot forgive us if we do not have humble and repentant hearts. We reveal the true condition of our hearts by the way we treat others.
When our hearts are humble and repentant, we will gladly forgive our Believers. But where there is pride and a desire for revenge, there can be no true repentance; and this means God cannot forgive. In other words, it is not enough to receive God’s forgiveness, or even the forgiveness of others. We must experience that forgiveness in our hearts so that it humbles us and makes us gentle and forgiving toward others.
The servant in the parable did not have a deep experience of forgiveness and humility. He was simply glad to be “off the hook.” He had never really repented. We need to always remember, Rabbi Sha’ul’s admonition to the Colossians. “Bear with one another; if anyone has a complaint against someone else, forgive him. Indeed, just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13).
In my next post, we will begin to explore what Yeshua taught about the END TIMES.