“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 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. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
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.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 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.
Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:23-35 ESV).
This parable should trouble us. Why? Because this teaching of Jesus does not fit well with many contemporary theological views about salvation. Yet, Jesus plainly states that if we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us. The debt God forgives us means little if we do not show mercy toward others. That should bother us.
We often live as if what truly matters is God forgiving us—but that is not the message of Jesus. If we do not allow the mercy that God shows us to lead us to show mercy to others, then we should expect God’s wrath against us. This is what happened to the servant who chose not to forgive his fellow servant. According to Jesus, we cannot love God without loving our neighbor.
Think about the world we live in. How much differently would it look if we all showed mercy to others as God has shown mercy to us? The parables of Jesus convey His theology, how He viewed God, and how we should live. But far too often, we misunderstand or gloss over aspects of His teaching, because they do not align with our own theology. Jesus commanded His disciples to “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
Can people look at our lives and see God’s mercy? Is it clear to them that we forgive others because God has forgiven us? If not, can we truly consider ourselves followers of Jesus?
Forgiveness is not easy; it is a choice. But if we truly appreciate God’s mercy, and our need for that mercy, we must then show mercy toward others in the same way. If we do not, we run the risk of facing His judgement against us. Therefore, extend the mercy you have received.
Father, You have been so merciful to us; may we show that same mercy and forgiveness to others. Amen.