Last night, as I was reading the parable of the unforgiving servant found in Matthew 18:21-35 a light turned on in my brain with a different understanding of what that passage meant. When I would read that passage in the past, I would get to the end and think that the lord wouldn’t forgive the unforgiving man after that man had treated his fellow servant so badly. It was as though I saw it as God not ever forgiving us (because He was angry with us) if we didn’t forgive others, yet I knew that God does forgive us, so it was confusing. But last night, I saw it in a new light.
I find it interesting that this is the parable that Jesus followed up with when Peter asked him how often we are supposed to forgive those who have wronged us. Jesus was making a point about what forgiveness truly is and what happens when we chose not to forgive others. In the parable, the servant asked for mercy from his lord and he received it. The debt that he owed was something that he could never hope to repay; it was impossible to repay. Yet, his lord chose to forgive him his debt. In the same way, God has forgiven a debt that is impossible for us to pay. He showed us great mercy and compassion.
Isn’t it interesting how the servant, after being forgiven so much, went immediately and tried to get his fellow servant to pay the paltry debt? The servant showed absolutely no mercy at all. The debt that the one servant owed to the other was so small, especially in comparison to what had been forgiven of the unforgiving servant. In the same way, someone might hurt us or wrong us, and in comparison to what we have been forgiven, the offense is minor, yet we choose to not forgive. We are angry, upset and want justification. We think, “Why should I humble myself and show them kindness…they don’t deserve to be forgiven!” Forgetting that we didn’t deserve forgiveness from our Lord, yet it was freely given.
At the end of the parable, the lord turned his servant over to the tormenters until the debt was paid. That brings to mind Matthew 7:1-2 – Judge not, that ye be not judged. For what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again. The word judge in that verse can mean to punish. When we don’t forgive someone, what happens? We are miserable and will become bitter. We think that we are punishing those who have hurt us, but in reality we are punishing ourselves as well. Ultimately, what is bitterness? What does it become? Bitterness in one’s life becomes a tormenter. People who are bitter can hardly function; it causes problems in relationships and can hurt those who are the closest to you. Until you forgive there can be no peace and little or no joy in life.
So, practically, Christ has given us a story that shows us how our unforgiveness looks to God and what happens to us when we choose to not forgive. He was also very clear that no matter what the offense it is our duty to forgive as many times as necessary. Do we show others the same forgiveness that we have been show? After all, God’s charges against us were much greater than anything man could claim against himself. God is holy; any affront toward God, no matter how miniscule it may seem, is still greater than man sinning against us, yet He chose to forgive us. Then, when we don’t forgive, God doesn’t take away His forgiveness (salvation), but He does allow us to feel the pain and consequences of not forgiving someone else. When we finally do choose to forgive, we feel the pain and torment lifted and once again have peace.