Two Kinds of Forgiveness

Two Kinds of Forgiveness

 Photo by  Alice Pasqual  on  Unsplash

Photo by Alice Pasqual on Unsplash

In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus tells a parable about an unforgiving servant. Through it, he's helping us see two kinds of radical, radical forgiveness and radical unforgiveness, and what will happen if we ignore the former for the latter.

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Theoretically, forgiveness is wonderful. Realistically, it’s nearly impossible. When sin comes charging at us, harming us in ways we could have never imagined, and the sinner is there before us, unable to undo the damage, how can we grant forgiveness? Even more, how can we do it again and again and again. This parable isn’t about one-time forgiveness. It’s about life-long forgiveness. And that’s where the trouble really comes.

The parable arises from a question the Apostle Peter asks of Jesus.“How often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Peter is trying to see how far forgiveness must go, and in so doing shows us that even in our most generous thoughts, we cannot grasp the depth and breadth of God’s call to forgiveness.

Radical Forgiveness

We can break the parable into three scenes. First, verses 23-27.

23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.

The story, like all of Jesus’s parables, has an easily understandable plot. A king is trying to balance his books and, therefore, settling debts. He calls a man who owes him ten thousand talents. This man is a slave, given the fact that when he can’t repay, the king plans to sell him and his family, probably both as a punishment and to regain some of the lost money. The servant, of course, cannot pay such a large sum. So he begs for forgiveness.

It’s important here to understand how large the sum was. A talent was worth six thousand denarii. A denarius was a day’s wage for a common laborer. Therefore, the math tells us one talent was worth about twenty years’ wages. Ten thousand talents, then, would equal 200,000 years’ wages. Obviously, that’s an incredible amount of money, one this servant could not repay.

But the servant asks for time to repay the debt. How he accrued it we are not told. Regardless, we can see that his request for patience to repay is ridiculous. No one could pay such a debt. He’s at the end of his rope. He’s begging for patience, hoping that the king gives him time to make it up. But he doesn’t. The king does something far greater instead. He forgives him entirely and releases him. In this first meeting between the servant and king, the king grants radical forgiveness.

This forgiveness is meant to sound radical. Jesus is showing us the kind of grace and mercy he shows towards those who’ve racked up a massive debt against him. To understand the shock and scandal of this radical forgiveness, we need to understand the shock and scandal of what God does in forgiving our debts against him, for this is the point of the parable. We become forgiving people to the extent to which we understand God’s forgiveness of us.

You and I are sinners from birth. We can thank Adam for that fallen condition. It doesn’t take us long to prove our sin, either. As we grow, our sin begins to feel normal. It becomes a part of who we are, how we think of ourselves, what we expect from ourselves. But normalcy of sin doesn’t make sin less than it is. Sin is treason against the King. It is an offense to the God who created us. It is a serious matter. Alexander Maclaren defined sin this way. “Sin is rebellion, the uprising of the will against rightful authority - not merely the breach of abstract propriety or law, but opposition to a living Person, who has right to obedience. The definition of virtue is obedience to God, and the sin in sin is the assertion of independence of God and opposition to His will.”

Our sin is not a small matter between God and us. It is the issue that separates us. It is the problem in our life. It is the limiting factor in us attaining holiness, finding God, reaching heaven. It is the core issue of our life. And unless our sin is dealt with—unless our sin is forgiven—we can find no way around it, we cannot clean it up, we cannot undo it. We are broken. We need a Savior.

Throughout the Bible, when people find themselves before the Lord, they always find themselves soiled with sin in his presence. For example, Isaiah pronounces woes on himself (Isaiah 6:5). Before God’s holiness, we find nothing good in us. We cannot stand before him. We need a massive cleansing from God, or we will have no way to stand before him when he calls us to account. Fleming Rutledge says, “From beginning to end, the Holy Scriptures testify that the predicament of fallen humanity is so serious, so grave, so irremediable from within, that nothing short of divine intervention can rectify it.”

And divine intervention we have in Jesus Christ. What we receive in Christ’s justification on the cross is not mere forgiveness of sins. It is a restoration of the relationship. It is a setting right. On the cross, in his death, Jesus pays the penalty for our sins on our behalf. What he does, then, is bigger than forgiving our iniquity. He is paying the penalty for our sins in his perfection, trading his goodness for our evil. That great exchange grants us a right standing before God. We become as Jesus is because he became as we were.

Radical Unforgiveness

In the parable’s second scene, the servant goes from his forgiveness from the king to oppression of another servant.

28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.

We should find this repulsive. Jesus wanted us to. But more than that, he wanted us to see our own heart before God’s forgiveness. Are we just as repulsive? What do we do with the forgiveness God has granted? Do we, in turn, forgive others? Or do we still expect justice? How forgiving are we?

This parable pushes us to a deep evaluation of our own heart. We can be so unforgiving of those who sin against us. So much of our unforgiveness we’re unaware of. But like poison, it will ruin us. When we withhold forgiveness, we are saying to the world that Jesus’s grace is sufficient to clean us, but not good enough to clean others.

Are we going from Sunday service to a troubled Sunday night dinner with the family? Are we harboring unforgiveness towards someone who can never undo their sin? Are we expecting something from others that we hope no one ever expects of us? Are we willing to forgive, or do we just talk about the idea of forgiving?

Whatever we say about our view of forgiveness, what we really believe shows up in how we act toward others. We will either let them go with a smile in our heart or we will throw them in jail with bitterness in our heart. There is no such thing as moderate forgiveness. There is radical forgiveness or radical unforgiveness. Which are you?  

Judgment of Unforgiveness

In the third scene, the servant’s actions reveal his true heart to the king.

31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Earlier in the story, Matthew records Jesus’s words in 6:14-15, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” James says it this way, “Judgment by God is without mercy to those who have shown no mercy. But mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13). No matter how you slice it, the Bible makes it clear: if we are to be forgiven, we must also forgive others.

We see it here in the parable as well. The other servants witness this gross injustice and run to tell the king what they’ve seen. The king summons the servant once again, but this time mercy has run out. It’s time for judgment.

No one listening or reading this parable looks upon the king as the one in the wrong. He is just to condemn the servant for his unforgiveness. If we live our lives in unforgiveness, we alone will be surprised to stand before the King and be judged. Everyone else will see what we said we believed was only a nice thought we had, not a reality we lived.

There are only two kinds of forgiveness: radical forgiveness and radical unforgiveness. Which have you received? Which are you granting?

 

How Do You Respond to God's Word?

How Do You Respond to God's Word?

Like a Treasure Hidden

Like a Treasure Hidden