THE UNMERCIFUL SERVANT
Matthew 18:21-22 Then came Peter to Him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, until seven times: but until seventy times seven. (See verses 23-35)
In this instance, as well as many others, Jesus uses a parable to answer a question posed by one of His disciples. Here, the parable of the unmerciful servant is used to answer Peter's question regarding forgiveness. This much Peter had already been taught by Jesus in His "Sermon on the Mount", for if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matt. 6:14-15). Forgiveness, Peter knew was necessary, but he wanted to be clear as to how many times it was necessary. According to Jewish custom, based on the rabbinical interpretation of Amos 1:3, a person seeking forgiveness was to be forgiven three times, but not four. Here, Peter, probably thinking that number may not be enough, extends the number by asking, Till seven times? Jesus answers, not seven times: but until seventy times seven. This expression was used to represent an unlimited number. Jesus is telling Peter, His other disciples, and you and I today, that under the New Covenant, Christians are not to count the number of transgressions against themselves by another, but rather to forgive them each time they seeks forgiveness. By using a parable, Jesus illustrates the necessity of forgiveness by Christians in the kingdom of heaven, under New Testament law. The following is an paraphrased analogy used by Jesus to explain to every Christian His teaching on forgiveness.
There was a king that had a servant owing him ten thousand talents. This was a great sum, which the servant was unable to repay. When the king threatened imprisonment and other legal actions, the servant begged for patience and additional time to repay the debt. Compassionately, the king freed the servant and forgave the entire debt. However, this same servant that owed the king a large amount, was owed a hundred pence, a much lesser amount, by a fellow servant. When he demanded payment, the fellow servant was unable to do so and begged for patience and an extension of time repay the debt. The first servant was unmoved by this plea, and had his fellow servant imprisoned until the debt was repaid. When the king was made aware of this, he had the servant brought in and denounced his actions by saying, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee (Vs. 33)? The king, then, withdrew his forgiveness of the debt and had the unmerciful servant cast into prison until the entire debt was repaid.
In this parable, debts represent sins. What is sin? The apostle, John, describes it in this manner. Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). Mankind is under civil law - the law existing in the jurisdiction in which you live. As an example, civil law says that you are not to steal that which rightfully belongs to another. If one steals, sin has been committed. A transgression has been made against the government's lawsunder which you live, as well as against the person having property stolen. Civil laws demand reparation, both to the government as well as to the victim. Reparation can take many forms. It can be confinement, monetary payments, community service, or as simple as an apology, depending on the degree of the crime.
Mankind is also under the law of God, our Creator. Among many others, thieves are listed as sinners that shall not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Stealing is, not only a sin against another individual and civil government, but also against God. God's punishment for this sin, and all other sins, is exclusion from the bliss of heaven, and eternal punishment in hell. This is what an unrepentant sinner "earns"; for the wages of sin is death ...(Rom. 6:23).
The parable teaches that sins can be forgiven just as debts can be canceled. Neither is earned, rather both are gifts from a forgiving master. However, each is conditional. The king, in the parable, was willing to forgive the debts of the servant, but only if that servant displayed the same forgiving compassion toward his fellow servants. So it is with God. God is willing to forgive our sins, but only if we demonstrate our willingness to forgive our fellow man. The lesson of this parable is summed up in these words of Jesus, for if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matt. 6:14-15).