Matthew 18:21-35 Forgiveness and Mercy

Have mercy on me!

Have mercy on me!

Jesus is still teaching His disciple in the house in Capernaum. Peter was listening closely to what Jesus was saying about the brother who offends you. “I know You tell me to forgive my brother, but how many times do I have to do it”, he asks Jesus. Thinking he is being generous, Peter throws out seven times as the number of times one should forgive his brother.

Seven is a number used quite frequently in the Jewish religion. It is considered the number of completion. Seven days in creation. Seven times Joshua marched around Jerrica. Seven of each clean animals on the ark. Got Questions.org does a very good job of exploring the use of the number seven in the bible.

Jesus doesn’t chastise Peter for his number or even asking the question. Jesus simply tells Peter the higher standard that God is calling them to. Peter’s number may have been acceptable under the old law, but not under God’s new covenant of grace.

Jesus shares a parable with Peter and the group. This parable is meant to be easily understood by Jesus’ disciples. In this story is about two servants who ask for forgiveness. The first owes more money than I could ever imagine repaying. My bible help says that one talent was worth about 20 years’ worth of wages, and our servant owed ten thousand talents. That is 20 THOUSAND years’ worth of work. The second servant owed 100 denarii. A denarii is about a day’s pay, so our second servant owed about 100 days’ worth of work.

Our first servant, whom I am naming Josiah, incurred his debt by trying to start a business of his own. He was the king’s baker and he planned to sell pastries he created while in service to the king. The king was so pleased with the confections and the baker’s initiative that he loaned him the money for his business venture. Our second servant, whom we will call Caleb, is a stable hand and he incurred his debt while trying to pay for a medical treatment for his son. His fellow servant was touched by his predicament and loaned him the money.

Two years have passed since the Josiah opened his business. As with most any new business, he lost money that first year and had to ask the king for even more funds. During the second year he is beginning to see a profit, but it is not significant yet. This year he also gave the one loan to Caleb. Not the wisest business decision, but his heart compelled him to help out. He also reasoned that he would be receiving interest on the loan as Caleb repaid it.

Because of our Josiah’s generosity, Caleb was able to pay the doctors what was needed to save his son’s life. The medicine now required to maintain his son’s life is taking every last cent this little family has left over. There is nothing to repay the debt with. Caleb’s wife has begun taking in laundry to help repay the loan.

Once a year, the king calls for an audit of his accounts. It is done at the same time every year, so Josiah has been dreading this day for months. He knows his debt with the king is so much more than he ever intended it to be. His business just didn’t perform like he thought it would. Tomorrow the king will call for him. He knows the king is a fair man and if he shows him the books, surely he can get an extension on the loan. He truly plans to pay what he owes. He just needs a little more time for his business to take off.

Morning arrives and Josiah is brought before the king. The king’s accountant reads the ledger book with Josiah’s name and the amount he owes the king. Josiah’s eyes widen. He didn’t realize the debt had gotten that large. He had forgotten to account for the interest in his own calculations. The king demands that Josiah pay the debt in full.

“Please my Lord. I don’t have that kind of money right now”, says Josiah while wringing his hat in his hands.

“Guards, throw him in prison until he pays every last cent.” To the accountant the king says, “Sell him, his wife, his children, and everything he owns to at least get something on the books now.”

Josiah falls on his face and begins weeping. Between sobs he begs the king for more time. “I will repay you everything I owe, but I need more time. Please don’t sell my family. This is my doing. Please have mercy on me my Lord.”

The king is so touched by Josiah’s plea for mercy that he grants him mercy beyond anything Josiah could have ever imagined. The king forgives the FULL loan! Josiah thanks the king profusely as he bows repeatedly while exiting the hall.

Josiah runs home and tells his wife what just happened. He is so excited he can hardly stand still.

A day passes and Josiah sees Caleb in the square. Josiah remembers the loan he gave Caleb. “If Caleb would have paid me what he owed me, I wouldn’t have had to grovel before the king. I could have offered the king that money. It wouldn’t have cleared the debt but it would have made me look better in the king’s eyes. It’s all Caleb’s fault that I lost face.” As these thoughts run through Josiah’s mind his anger with Caleb keeps growing. Finally Josiah decides to act. “I’ll teach that Caleb what it means to honor a debt. He can’t get away with ignoring his obligations. He signed the loan papers. He knew what he was getting into.”

Caleb is standing with his son at the pharmacy, waiting for the pharmacist to fill his son’s medication. Josiah walks up and grabs Caleb by his tunic front. Caleb is stunned beyond words. Caleb’s son stares dumbfounded. Josiah begins to choke Caleb and demands Caleb pay him what he owes. “Please Josiah, you are scaring my son. I will pay you everything I owe you but I need more time. Please have mercy on me. I’m doing everything I can to repay you.”

“TIME! I’ll give you time. Time in prison. That’s where you will stay until every last penny is repaid. I want my 100 denarii, and I’ll do whatever it takes to get it.” Caleb’s son clutches Caleb’s robe and is sobbing in fear. Josiah calls a nearby guard and has Caleb immediately taken to prison. Caleb’s son runs after the man taking his father away.

The accountant from the king’s court and a fellow servant from the kitchen just happen to be shopping in the same market where Caleb is being hauled away from in chains. The accountant has overheard the entire interaction. He is appalled by Josiah’s behavior. Just yesterday Josiah was standing before the king asking for mercy. Now he has none for his fellow man. This is NOT right. The king needs to hear about this.

The following day, Josiah is called before the king again. Josiah wonders if the king is going to complement him on the wonderful cake he just served. Josiah had made an extra special cake for the king today, in honor of the mercy the king had shown him concerning his debt. As Josiah enters the king hall he notices the accountant is back at the table again. “That’s strange. I thought the accountant only came once a year.”

“Josiah, my accountant has brought me some very disturbing news. He observed you with one of your fellow servants in town yesterday. He tells me how you had the man thrown in prison for a debt he owed you. Is this true?”

“Yes Lord. This man had not paid me a penny in weeks. I had to do something to recoup my money. I didn’t have any other choice.”

“I heard that you did this right in front of your fellow servant’s son. Did you have no pity for him at all; not even for his son?”

“I had no other choice my Lord. I needed that money.”

“You are the vilest man I have ever met! Did I not, just two days ago, deal with you over a debt that you had NO HOPE of ever repaying? I showed you mercy beyond anything you ever expected. I could have allowed you more time to pay it, or I could have sold you and all that you owned, but instead I forgave the entire debt! And you say you had no other choice with your fellow servant? What about the choice I made for you?” The king shakes his head in disgust. Josiah has gone white with fear as he stands before the king. “Josiah, I believe YOU have made my choice for me then. You, your entire family, and everything you own are to be sold. Furthermore, you are to be taken immediately to prison where you will spend the rest of your life, until EVERY LAST CENT is repaid.” Josiah is grabbed by two guards and hauled bodily from the king’s presence.

After Jesus finished His story, Peter is too stunned to speak. How could Josiah behave so despicably towards Caleb after all he had received?

Then Jesus tells His disciples that it is this way with God. That if they don’t truly forgive their brother who sinned against them, then God wouldn’t forgive them. “God has forgiven you of so much, how can you possibly hold their brother hostage by not forgiving the smaller things he has done to you?”

Father God, You gave me mercy when I deserved none. I had no way of paying the debt I owed You. You have given me so much beyond mercy too. You have loved me. You have blessed me in ways that are too numerous to count. You have kept me safe in Your hands. And You have promised me eternity with You. This is BEYOND mercy! Thank You for every inch of Your blessings AND mercy.

I don’t want to be Josiah EVER! I want to forgive my brother from my heart. I want to show my brothers the kind of love You have shown me. Help me to let Your love shine through me. It is NOT always easy to forgive, but it is what You have commanded. Help me truly forgive with my whole heart. I’m trying to practice Your directives in the circumstances I find myself in right now. No time like the present to work on the things You have, again, brought to my attention through Your word. Thank You for teaching me day by day to be the daughter You have created me to be.

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One Response to “Matthew 18:21-35 Forgiveness and Mercy”

  1. Victoria says:

    Well done, Annette. (Tears)

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