Matthew 18:21-35

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. Today's biblical passage begins with a conversation between Peter and Jesus that goes as follows: "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how many times am I supposed to forgive him. Is it seven times?," asked Peter. Then, the Lord replied to him, "I truly say to you. More than seven times, forgive seventy times seven."

2. Is it seven times? -- I think that was the maximum amount of patience for somebody else that Peter could imagine because the commonly accepted notion in Jewish society was that God's forgiveness was three strikes and you're out. But, the Lord's reply was surprising. "Forgive up to seventy times seven times." Were it to go to seventy times seven, you'd [lose] the count by then. In sum, how many times you counted means "don't count." It means "don't count, [just] forgive."

3. So, what do you feel about this? Maybe you feel the natural reaction at first of "How can [anyone] do such a thing?" Some [of us] may even have the faces of people difficult to forgive specifically come to mind. There must be many who hold the feeling that if I can't forgive anybody even just once, how can I forgive them countless times.

4. But, when you think about it somewhat, this doesn't seem to be a statement of whether it is at all emotionally possible to do or not; for, we will have within us the feeling not only that "that's impossible" but "that's not fair!" Oh, over and over we should just like that forgive people who have caused suffering upon others?! Instead, shouldn't they receive equal suffering? Isn't that fair? We feel like that even in cases when a complete stranger was hurt; so we don't even have to mention how we'd feel that way even more in cases when we are hurt. Existing within us is the grim but undeniable conviction that "Those who sin against someone and hurt someone ought to pay for it with the same pain. That would be fair and just." [Since] that's how we are, how should we listen to the words of Jesus, which seem to be so extreme to us?

The Loan Of Ten Thousand Talents

5. So with that in mind what we should do is give a good listening to a parable that Jesus told. "A king wanted to settle the money lent to his servants. While he began to settle his accounts with them, a servant to whom he had loaned ten thousand talents was brought before the king. But, as [the man] could not pay it back, his highness ordered that the servant pay it back by selling himself, his wife and children, and all his possession. The servant bowed to the ground and pleaded hard, 'Please wait. I will surely pay it all back," (twenty-three through twenty-six).

6. [That's] ten thousand talents. This is equivalent to the wages for 60,000,000 days for a laborer (about 164,383 years). Any way you turn it, you'd never expect him to be able to [pay] such a sizeable debt. No matter how you see it, it's an impossible mess. The Lord had a knack for telling impossible stories like that one. Within such an extreme a compelling message is inserted through Jesus' words.

7. What was the Lord trying to convey? First, [he was saying] that "Our sin against God is so great that it goes beyond our ability to imagine it." This is an allegory of the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God. In this parable, "the king" clearly points to "God," the indebted servant points to us humans. To begin with, since he was making a speech on sin and forgiveness, what he said and meant by the loan was a speech on forgiveness. He was saying that this debt of sin was going up to an unimaginably huge amount.

8. I'm sure we often find ourselves thinking about our sin. I'm sure we've been troubled over our sinfulness and suffered over it. If we go by what Jesus said, we do not see the depth of our sin by true definition. Just as our imagination cannot stretch itself enough regarding the debt of ten thousand talents, we cannot stretch our minds enough to how great our indebtedness for our sin against God really is.

9. Then second, what this is saying is "If God judges us and he does, his judicial ruling is righteous." The king ordered the servant to "Pay it back by selling himself, his wife, children and all his possessions." Was this king making an intentionally cruel demand? Was he giving the man a harsh treatment unfairly and undeservedly? No, he wasn't. The king was demanding what was due him. The king did what was right. To begin with, even had he sold off himself, his wife, children, and possessions, it would not be worth ten thousand talents.

10. As I mentioned previously, we always have in our hearts a claim for justice for ourselves. We live thinking, "The person who sins against someone or hurts somebody should pay for it with the same suffering. That would be just." But, often times, we apply this principle of "justice" on somebody else's sin, but we are not about to apply it on our own sin or especially on the sin [we commit] against God. But, with this parable Jesus puts us [acting like] that into this context of "settling accounts before God." How do our accounts get settled properly and "justly" while [we stand] in the sight of God? We ourselves and not somebody else will be required to make settlement of our debts while [we stand] before God. We will have to stand as persons worthy of judgment and condemnation by God. The Lord is showing [us] that with this parable.

Writing Off The Loan

11. However, this illustrated story from Jesus will show forth a surprising twist. "The servant's king was merciful, he pardoned him, and cancelled the loan," (verse twenty-seven). He cancelled out a loan for ten thousand talents! That's ridiculous! Something like that's impossible! By all accounts you'd think that. But, Jesus says that this is a pardon from God. Just as our sin is greater beyond our imagination, the gift of a pardon from God is also greater than we [can] imagine. God pardons our sin, which is a truly dumbfounding thing that happens, that something so totally impossible against nature has happened.

12. Nonetheless, even when we actually hear about a pardon from God, we're hardly surprised. We're likely to think since he's God he's supposed to be deep in mercy. Human can be [spelled] exactly like that. The Lord also took this into consideration. So, even the servant who appears in this parable is never scared stiff or amazed at it. Steady on his two feet, he makes a quick getaway from the king. Then, the story proceeds as follows: "However, the servant goes out, and when he meets someone on his social standing, to whom he had loaned one hundred denarii, he grabs and chokes him, and says, 'Pay me back my loan.' The man bowed himself down and pleaded hard, 'Please wait. Cause I'll pay you.' But, he did not consent to it, he dragged the man and put him in jail until he paid back the loan," (verses twenty-eight through thirty).

13. Let's take verses twenty-eight to thirty away from its context. He went to meet the man to whom he had loaned one hundred denarii. When we see that his neighbor was saying, "Please wait," the payback deadline must have passed. We're not impressed with his choking of the man, but nothing else was wrong in what he did at the fundamental level of his actions. To demand that he be "paid back" was just.

14. But, as soon as verses twenty-eight to thirty are placed within the greater context of the narrative, the situation takes a whole other turn. When we consider [what he did] by itself apart from the rest of the context, [he] was completely just, but in the larger context of the narrative, he was wrong [in what he did]. Consequently, he is put under the righteous judgment of the king again. The ruler calls the servant in and says, "You're a wicked servant. Because you pleaded, I cancelled all of your loan. Shouldn't you have been merciful towards your neighbor as I was merciful to you?," (verses thirty-two and thirty-three). "He should have been merciful." -- That's right. In this context the right thing to have done would be to "be merciful" and not take a collection. In the end, he was jailed. It was not because of the debt of ten thousand talents. It turned out he was jailed because he would not pardon his neighbor.

15. Then, as Jesus places us hearing this parable into the context of "God's mercy," he says, "When any of you do not pardon your brothers from the heart, my heavenly father will do the same to you," (verse thirty-five).

Placing Oneself Into The Context Of "God's Mercy"

16. As is clear from a single reading of this passage, the conclusion of verse thirty-five is established upon one premise. It is the premise that we are likened unto persons bearing a huge loan of ten thousand talents as is found in this parable. If this premise falls apart, the very conclusion of this story falls apart. If the message of verse thirty-five doesn't suit our liking, we might declare a completely different premise. In other words, we might come up with, "I'm not that bad." We might say, "There may be sinners to that degree, but I'm not as sinful as to be likened to a person bearing a loan of ten thousand talents." By doing that, there are a number of times when we justify ourselves [as being] unforgiving [towards others]. We might even add to that, "People who have sinned against someone and people who hurt others deserve to pay for it with equal suffering. That would be just and fair." So, we are drawn to the temptation of wanting to do something like that [back].

17. But, Jesus has something strong to say to us [seekers of payback and vengeance]. You yourselves used to bear a loan for ten thousand talents. And he says, you have received a cancellation of that huge loan through the mercy of the king alone. Furthermore, the Lord did not only state this with just words, he stated it to us with his own body and with his life. The Lord's having stated this with his body and life should have been even more astonishing.

18. How huge was the debt of our sin? It is bigger than ten thousand talents. The debt of our sin reached an amount so immense that it was unpayable unless God's only son shed his blood on the cross, writhed in pain, and died. The amount of our indebtedness is equivalent to the value of Christ's blood and the son's life. The Lord is graciously speaking to us with his body, which was cruelly exposed upon the cross. This is the depth of your sinfulness. This is the size of the loan of your sin. And he says, this is the size of God's mercy when he pardoned your sin.

19. We've entered into Passion Season. [During] this period of time we will live each day reflecting upon the suffering of Christ. It is a time when we think of the immensity of our sins [as seen] through the suffering of Christ. It is also the time when we think of the immensity of God's amazing pardon whereby he has forgiven these sins of ours; it is also the time we again place ourselves in the larger context of this mercy from God and we take specific steps in our daily lives towards pardoning [others] and reconciling [with them].

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