Sunday, March 19, 2017

Parable: The Unmerciful Servant

Peter and Thomas asked good questions.  Sometimes we beat them up two millennia later as if everybody knew that, but they asked good questions.  The other disciples should have been so bold.

In this instance, Peter asked Jesus just how many times must I forgive my brother when he sins against me.  Peter proffers the answer of 7 times as an answer worthy of a follower of Jesus.  He probably thought this number was high.

Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice shame on me was not modern wisdom.  Peter is probably thinking, sin against me three times and you have pushed the limit, but because Jesus is always expecting more out of us, I’ll say 7 times.  Besides, 7 is a godly number.  That should impress Jesus.

Jesus responded, not 7 but 77 times.  Some translations read that you must forgive your brother 7 times 70 times.  This is an important distinction for those who are into modern day metrics.  Maybe you can load forgiveness into you Fitbit or smart-phone.  But what do you put in?  Is it 77 or 490?

The answer is that you forgive your brother or sister a whole bunch more than you thought possible.  I’m sure that 7 times seem huge to Peter and 77 times seemed beyond belief.  Who could forgive that much?

Jesus told yet another parable about the Kingdom of Heaven.  This time we at least get a king in this kingdom parable.  The Kingdom of Heaven is like a king who was settling accounts.  One of the king’s servants had accrued an incredible debt, one that he could not repay.

Think about your mortgage, car payments, insurance payments, medical bills, student loans, and monthly bills all being due in full today.  Despite the godly guidance that warns us against significant debt, many are in a whole bunch of debt and can relate to the servant’s dilemma.  It’s all due now! 

The amount given is 10,000 talents.  This is not $10,000 but something much greater; probably a million or more (perhaps much more) in modern equivalent.  It was a whole bunch and the king demanded it.  It was his right to ask for his money back whenever he wanted it.

The servant could not pay and so he and his family were to be sold into slavery to pay for the debt.  That sounds harsh, but this action goes by another name—justice.  This was the justice of the day. 

The king dispensed justice.  His actions were indisputably right and proper.  You can’t pay; you get sold to pay what you owe.  That was justice.

The servant asked for more time—be patient with me and I will pay it all back.  Give me more time.  Actually, it was probably more like please, please, please give me more time.

The king did not grant more time.  He cancelled the debt. 

This is mercy.

What is the appropriate response to mercy?  Thanksgiving and praise are surely at the top of the list.  For those who know what’s coming, living a life of mercy would surely be the most thankful response one could give to receiving mercy.

The servant departed this encounter.  He should have been walking on air and sing praises to the king, but he encountered a fellow servant.  Instead of telling him what a wonderful thing that just happened to him, he remembered that this other servant owed him money.  It was not much but he wanted it now.

The other servant couldn’t pay and so he started choking him.  The servant who had just been forgiven a million-dollar debt was outraged that his fellow servant could not pay back the fifty bucks that he owed him.

Despite his fellow servant’s request for mercy, he had him thrown in prison until he could pay the debt.  Why was he not sold into slavery?  Who was going to buy a slave for 3 months?  The local prison could rent him out as a staffing agency or the servant’s family could come up with the money.

Despite how we might feel about this unmerciful servant; justice was done.  The man owed him money and he couldn’t pay, so it was off to prison.  Justice was done.  The choking part was a bit overboard, but sending the man to prison was appropriate justice for that time.  Justice was done.

There were witnesses to this justice—fellow servants.  As it turned out, they felt it appropriate to report this to their master, who was also the king.  That did not sit well with him.

He had the servant whom he had just forgiven brought back to him.  He declared him to be wicked.  He told him that he was merciful to him in response to his request for mercy.  In his anger, the king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he could repay the debt.  Ouch!

The parable didn’t say that his family had to go with him, but ouch!  This is severe, but this is justice.  The king reinstated the debt.  Kings can do just about whatever they want.  They are sovereign and justice was dispensed.

The parable describes the Kingdom of Heaven in terms of a king who by all rights can dispense justice but who desires mercy.  To live in this kingdom, we too must desire mercy.  Mercy rules.

Do we want to be accountable for our every debt or do we desire mercy?  To live in this kingdom, we must receive mercy and give mercy.  There is no other currency so valuable.  Mercy triumphs over justice.

At the end of this parable, Jesus reprimands the disciples.  He is admonishing them as if they were the unmerciful servant.  If you want to live in my Father’s kingdom, then get your hearts right.  You must be able to forgive from the heart.  Mercy, not rules or justice or even an eye for an eye will get you into the kingdom.

Love, mercy, and forgiveness are more than words; they are the divine nature of citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.  For us to follow Jesus and live in his Father’s kingdom now, we must surrender our hearts to him.  Like the potter with the clay, our hearts must be re-shaped into hearts of mercy.

Considering this parable, do we desire justice or mercy?
Do we desire to live in a kingdom of justice or mercy?
Are we ready to seek justice or mercy in our relationships with our brothers and sisters?

Are we ready to seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness in his mercy or would we rather get there by being judged for our compliance and adherence to all the rules?

Jesus told those who would follow him that his yoke was easy and his burden was light and that we are to come and learn from him.  One of the first things that we should learn is forgiveness.  We must learn mercy.

This living by mercy is not new business on the agenda.  What does God require of humankind?  Think to the words of the prophet.  We are to seek justice and love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

We seek justice but we love mercy.  We are to love mercy.

We might think that forgiveness is hard.  It is so hard to forgive those who have wronged us, but the burden that we carry seeking justice for those who have hurt us is so much heavier than the easier load of forgiveness.

Jesus tells us that if we want to live in this kingdom then we must learn forgiveness.  It must become our first nature.  God’s heart desires mercy for us and that we have mercy on each other.  There is no other formula within the Kingdom of Heaven.

Forgiveness is perhaps the area in which so many Christians are still doing the hokey-pokey with going all in on the Kingdom of Heaven. 

I put my forgiveness foot in.  I take my forgiveness foot out.

Jesus is saying that is all or nothing in this forgiveness stuff.  Love, mercy, and forgiveness are the keys to citizenship in this kingdom.  If you want to live there now, it is going to take some serious growth, but we are blessed to grow in God’s grace. 

We probably won’t get there all at once.  Some do, most have to work at it.  When it becomes more difficult to forgive than we think we can handle, think beyond the 10,000 talents that the servant owed the king in this parable to the even greater debt that we had incurred by sin.  It was much more than we could ever pay but the debt is paid.

It was paid in blood because God desired mercy for us over anything that we could ever give him.  He desires that we know this mercy so well that it becomes our nature.  Mercy will mean more to us than justice.  That’s a tough pill to swallow for many—for most.

To receive mercy and not give mercy is wickedness holding us back from living in the Kingdom of Heaven today.  Cast off everything that is holding you back in your race of faith.  Our inability to forgive is holding us back in our race and keeping us out of living in God’s kingdom right now.

The problem is that we can come up with so many reasons not to forgive—and they are good reasons.  They are valid reasons.  They make perfect sense in a world where justice is more valuable than mercy.  But’s that’s not where we want to live.

Now, we would like to see justice prevail in the world.  Laws and justice and a general order about things seems desirable.  It is.  Laws and rules and protocols help keep us within some generally civilized boundaries and help us to function as societies.

That’s the world that we know and we hope has some sanity to it.  Occasionally, it even seems to seek God’s wisdom, but we are called to more than what worldly models have in store for us.  We work to make the world a better place because God gave us gifts and talents to do that, but if we are to live in his kingdom now, mercy must be more important to us than the standards of the world.

Mercy must reign in our lives.

It is already God’s standard for our relationship.  Let’s make it our standard for dealing with each other.

Because we live in God’s kingdom now, our standard is mercy.  Our standard is mercy.


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