Have you ever felt the guilt and shame of doing something that you knew was wrong? There is the nagging thought in the back of your mind that one day you are going to be called to account for what you’ve done?
That is exactly what takes place in the parable we are about to study from Matthew 18:23-35. It’s about a king and a servant who owes more than he can pay
This is the second part of a three-part series. To gain the full impact of the message I encourage you to read part one if you haven’t already done so before continuing.
A Time to Settle Accounts
A king decides it is time to settle accounts with his servants. There are those who, due to their position in the kingdom, are responsible to make or to raise required amounts of income for the king.
These servants are not the same as we might think today. They are ones like those in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) are given large sums of money by the king and expected to go out and invest that money and bring in more.
In that parable three servants are given different amounts of money based on their individual abilities. One is given five talents, another two talents, and the other one talent. Later the king returns to see what they did with the money they were given.
The first two doubled their money and the king rejoiced and rewarded them. One buried his money and brought no increase. He was rebuked by the king and cast away as a wicked servant.
There were also servants of the king that were given charge over regions of the kingdom and were responsible to raise taxes and pay them to the king on a regular basis. The price was set by the king and the servant must raise the funds.
We are not sure which type of servant the Parable of the Merciful and Just King is, but we do know what he owed the king.
An Unpayable Debt
The servant in our parable owes the king 10,000 talents (v. 24) and he does not have the money. Jesus uses a ridiculously high amount of money to show His listeners that the amount he owes the king is astronomical and there is no way that the servant could ever pay it back.
Let’s look at the math. We’ll start with a denarii. A denarii is one day’s wage in Jesus day. The average person made about 300 denarii a year (this considers a person having the Sabbath off and the times allotted for attendance at the feasts).
One talent consisted of 6,000 denarii. Ten thousand talents times six thousand denarii equals 60 million denarii. This servant owed the king 200,000 years of wages.
That doesn’t seem like a lot when we think about how many billionaires we have in our times. Let’s put it into perspective for the time of this servant. Archelaus, the king over Judea and Samaria, brought in 600 talents a year and Herod Antipas, king over Galilee and Perea, brought in about 200 talents a year.
This guy was in hot water and he knew it. There was no way to pay the king back and he knew it. He did not have the money (v. 25).
The king, as the ruling judge over his kingdom, brought judgment upon the man. He ordered that the man, his wife and children, and everything he owned be sold and repayment be made. His wife and children were considered property according to Roman law.
It was a common event that debtors and their families were sold into slavery or servitude to pay off debts owed to creditors (see, Exodus 22:3; 2 Kings 4:1). It is somewhat like debtor's prison. People would be forced to work to pay their expenses for living in the workhouse and the rest would go to those they owed money until the debt was paid in full.
This man’s freedom, his family, and all he owned would be lost forever because there was no way that the debt could be paid. So he decided to do the only thing he could do, beg for mercy.
**Have you ever noticed that when you do something wrong you strongly desire mercy? You want people to look at your heart and your intent. You never want to receive full justice.
A Merciful King
In desperation the man immediately fell to the ground and worshipped the king. He asked the king to be patient and he would repay everything.
The man knew he could never pay the king what he owed him (v. 26). The king knew there was no way the man could repay him, but something happened in the heart of the king. He felt compassion for his slave.
Compassion is a strong inner feeling that Larry Richards calls “life’s turning point.” It is an emotion that causes a person to feel pity for and love toward another to the point of helping them.
This is the same motivation that moved the heart of Jesus to help those who needed Him. Everywhere Jesus went there were crowds of sick people and those tormented by demons following Him in hope of healing.
Matthew tells in that Jesus, “seeing the people . . felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Jesus felt the despair in the lives the people and was moved deep within His soul to reach out and bring about a turning point in their lives.
The king decided to show the man mercy. Mercy is an incredible gift. It is given to someone who in no way earns or merits it. The servant did not deserve mercy. That is the beauty of it. It is undeserved and given by the love and compassion of the one giving it.
The one receiving it can never boast that they had done anything to earn it. It can only be received.
Forgiveness is costly
Moved by compassion and guided by his mercy the king releases the man and forgives him his debt. The servant is no longer going to go to prison. He no longer owes the king 10,000 talents. His great debt has been forgiven.
Who can imagine the explosion of emotions bursting in the heart of the man.
- Shock -. Did I hear you right. I am forgiven?
- Relief - I no longer carry the weight of that unpayable debt.
- Joy - My family and I are free.
- Thankfulness - I can now start life afresh and new.
- Incredulity - You have got to be kidding me. Is this real? This is too good to be true.
The king did two things. First, he released him from his slavery. He let the man go totally free. One moment he was sentenced to a lifetime of slavery and the next he was a free man. The king had pardoned him.
Second, the king forgive him his debt. The main idea behind the word forgive (aphiemi in the Greek) is “to let go.” One moment the man owed the king 10,000 talents and the next moment he owed the king absolutely nothing. His debt was cancelled. He was forgiven.
Forgiveness is such a wonderful thing to receive, but it is costly for the one forgiving. It cost the king 10,000 talents to forgive this man. That is the thing about forgiveness. It always costs the one who is giving the forgiveness.
Even though the king had every legal right to hold his servant accountable for the great debt he was owed, he chose to forgive and release the man. One would think that receiving such mercy would change the heart of the servant forever, but it didn’t.
The Unmerciful Servant
It is this part of the parable that gives it its usual name of the unmerciful servant. It seems like no sooner did the servant leave the presence of the king that he went out and hunted down a fellow servant that owed him money (v. 28) and he was determined to get every penny that was due him.
This fellow slave owed him 100 denarii. The first slave had just been forgiven 60 million denarii and he was concerned about 100 denarii. He was forgiven 200,000 years of wages but refused to forgive 100 days of wages.
The first slave was so angry about the nonpayment of the 100 denarii that he grabbed the man by the neck and began choking him. He told him to pay back what he owed.
The fellow servant falls to the ground with the same exact words the first servant said to the king. He was begging for mercy and the patience of the servant. But the servant refuses to listen and casts the fellow servant into prison until he paid back everything that he owed.
**Have you ever noticed that when someone does something wrong to you that you want justice? You want the person to pay for what they have done to you. You want what is owed to the full.
If this were the end of the story it would be tragic. Don’t forget this is the Parable of the Merciful and Just King.
The Just King
Some fellow slaves saw what had happened. They were very grieved over what they had seen (v. 31). We have no idea if they knew about the first slave being set free and forgiven his great debt or not. One thing is certain, they did not think that what took place was right so they went to the king and told him the whole story.
The king was angry and summoned the servant back into his presence. The king called him a wicked slave. Wickedness is moral evil that causes harm or damage on another person. The king could not believe one that was forgiven so much could cause so much harm to one who owed so little.
The king made an important point to this wicked slave. He said, “Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way I had mercy on you?” (v. 33). Because of the servants wicked heart the king turned him over to the torturers until he paid everything that he owed.
This is where the justice of the king comes into play. We must remember that the king is the one who is the righteous judge over his kingdom. It is his responsibility to assure that all evil is dealt with accordingly.
Since he had shown so much compassion and mercy on the servant, he expected the servant to do the same. Because of his wicked behavior he was now turned over to the torturers, a much severer punishment than the king originally planned for the man.
Some translations use the term jailer instead of the word torturer. The king was so angry at what the wicked servant did that he turned them over to the torturers. His refusal to extend the mercy he had received to his fellow servant and his harsh treatment of the man caused the king to hand out severe treatment.
- C. H. Lenski in his commentary Matthew describes some of the things that the tortures did to people. They would make prisoners carry around heavy chains, nearly starve them to death, make them work excessively, and torture their bodies.
This is the end of the parable. Jesus leaves this man in prison with the torturers working until he pays off an unpayable debt. Tragic. Unnecessary. Sad.
A Shocking Declaration
Jesus looks at Peter and the other disciples and says something shocking:
My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart..
Wow! Did you hear what Jesus just said? God Himself will turn you over to the torturers if you do not forgive from the heart. No, you won’t be cast into a prison and tortured by men. Your heart and mind become the prison. Your thoughts, hurts, and pain are the torturers that torment your soul.
Next week we’ll look at how this parable applies to us and find God’s way to get out of prison and silence the tormentors of your soul.
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