Parable of Unmerciful Servant

God’s Nature of forgiveness

Parable Series 1 – Parable of the unmerciful servant, and its preamble

“He has preserved our lives, and kept our feet from slipping” Proverbs 67:9

The preamble to the parable of the unmerciful servant

Matthew 18:1-21

Interestingly, these verses (1-21) set out five values exactly replicated in the parable of the unmerciful servant (22-35). They are first, Jesus’ teaching on the value of childlike humility and gratitude; Second, Jesus’ teaching on what God thinks about us seeking out one broken human life. Third, Jesus teaches them how to challenge and to account for actions in a godly way, four, the value of unity among brothers, and the power it can generate; and five, with Peter’s question about forgiveness, we see the value of forgiveness and gratitude. Through these five principles, Jesus provides an ideal setting for the parable of the unmerciful servant, so that we might be less likely to reject its importance.

Before beginning these themes, first, it should be plain to everyone that the hero of the parable is not the servant, but the King who forgives and keeps forgiving. Second, that we should not apply the forgiveness of this King as a ‘rule’ in human affairs. The King is not a type of ‘God’ though we may draw some inferences from the example. However, also, the ‘forgiveness’ of this story points to an attribute that goes beyond natural ability, and that comes only from God. In other words, though humans might divinely express in their creative energies the good attributes of God, they are not God—they can do so only through the life lived in the ambiance of the Spirit of Christ (see, Volf, After Our Likeness, 291).

five themes will be re-enacted in the drama of the parable:

1. The value of childlike humility and graciousness

And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 18:3

Jesus gives us two of heaven’s clues on how to engage in perfect relationship with Him – first, to humble ourselves as a little child, and second, to welcome little children in his name. The Greek meaning of “child” is pais, and is the same word used for “servant” [quoting Isaiah’s “servant” of the lord in the NT], or slave, or child. An added bonus for the “children” is that their angels in heaven always see the face of the Father [verse 10] – not bad for representation. They could not have it better!

2. The value of compassion

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” Matthew 18:12-14

Jesus moves from the childlike to a description of three kinds of things people do with childlike hearts – first, they are filled with compassion for the disadvantaged, sick, and lost, second, they rejoice over those who are found. They are cheerers. When they hear of how others do well, their hearts leap with joy – God is pleased with such people! They love to see God’s healing at work. Paul showed us that heart when in prison. He had proclaimed a blessing even on those criticizing him [Philippians 1:18].  Third, how well people do is more important to them than the effort or inconvenience they themselves might have suffered in the process. To them, it is better to be selfless than self-aware!

3. The value of honesty and a proper accounting for actions

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17

Teachings on childlikeness, tenderness, compassion, and a primary focus on those in need might have communicated to the sinners among them that they had been completely let off the hook. Yes, it is true. He had a plan to redeem them, but it would not ignore inappropriate behavior. The way of escape was through Him [in honesty, repentance, and forgiveness], and not in brazen disregard for sin, or through the back doors of concealment and subtlety! Jesus was calling the witnesses to stand up and declare truth about behavior. The great benefit to the proper administration of errors in community relationships would be the synergy and strength of what they would achieve together. We hear the echoes of Leviticus 26:8, “Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you”. Jesus’ statement: “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven…” had shown them how everyone could be encouraged to run for gold. Yes, even those treated as “pagans and tax collectors” would be given the opportunity to see their sin and to adjust in order to journey with their brothers.

Punishment is not God’s method of motivating his children, love is, patience is, grace is, and mercy is, and these all precede and follow God’s discipline! In another sense, final judgment is not God’s last word, final reconciliation is (see, 1 Corinthians 15). This example does not advocate that one can lose one’s salvation but is intended to show how God begins with us: first by showing us His love, and second by giving us his word as a guide to healthy living, then by showing us how to walk with our brothers and sisters as witnesses. God is confident that his process will work, and so should we! He is able to teach us both to fear God [the wisdom of reverence] and to love God [the fruit of unity-across-diversity]. David explains God’s mercy in our saving faith in Psalms 55:22, “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall“. This Scripture is a replica of 1 Peter 5:7, which repeats it but leaves out the last line “he will never let the righteous fall”. This is symptomatic of some of the Old Testament Scriptures quoted by New Testament leaders. By quoting it, Peter was not limiting but merely summarizing what was in the old covenant. Thus, to cast our cares on God implied two things, first, that God would never refuse our need, and second, that His covenant with us is irrefutable – it is unbreakable! He was, and is still, the fulfiller of the promise, and the guarantor of the inheritance. His Spirit is given to us as a deposit guaranteeing the outcome of sanctification. We need to analyze three keywords David uses in his verse. First, “sustain”, which is kul in the Hebrew, and means: to hold, seize; to provide, supply, sustain; to bear, endure. The word is significant in that it implies a powerful seizing of us by God [this is an important key of the parable. It shows that it was the King that “seized” his servant, and not the other way round]. The second is “never” – its meaning is made up of three words, which when put together amount to an unshakeable salvation by faith. They are:

  • L§- – agency, by means of
  • Lo} – no, not
  • {Olaœm – everlasting, forever, eternity; from of old, ancient, lasting, for a duration.

In other words, that God does not intend to let us go. Summed up so far, the line “He will never let the righteous fall” is a clear explanation of God’s amazing grace toward humankind. Therefore, it is palpably incomprehensible that anyone would not hurl [“cast” – sûaœlak] his or her cares on God. The third is “fall”, which is motin Hebrew, and means to be toppled, to cause to fall, to be continually shaken, or to slip. What makes the third word remarkable is that it reminds us here of what it is God is saving us from. That God has a plan to rescue and to keep us is evident in Jesus’ words, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” [John 6:37], but God will not ignore our actions. He will deal with us to prepare us for himself.

4. The value of unity among brothers

“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:19-20

Solomon writes that a man’s ways are in full view of the lord, and he examines all his paths [Proverbs 5:21]. Jesus is reemphasizing a key of divine success in this passage – that unity commands a blessing [Psalms 133]. The blessing is automatic on those who choose unity with Him. He has already shown by his lifestyle what the unity of the Trinity can produce – a human life lived for God! This principle also purports that if our unity with God is exercised in a community, it results in increased blessing

5. The value of forgiveness and gratitude

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times [verses 21-22].

It is obvious by Peter’s question that he, and probably the others, had not understood the depth of what Jesus had been teaching in the first 20 verses of this chapter. The human mind wants to rationalize. It wants to reach for, and make understandable. It wants to believe only in what it understands. Jesus’ response was to set the bar so high that they would say, “Ok, we cannot do it” Peter’s customary boldness had propped him into speaking what was on all their minds. His question is really a disclaimer – he had set the limit of his forgiveness to “7 times”. Jesus’ response puts forgiveness out of the reach of human effort – an infinite number! To forgive [aphieœmi] means to pardon, remit, cancel; to leave, abandon; to allow, permit, tolerate.

We now come to the parable itself…


The parable of the unmerciful servant

Matthew 18:22-35

Before embarking on the parable, it is important to mention the three things the parable is not teaching. First, “the jailer” that the unmerciful servant is sent to in Matthew 18:34 does not in any way indicate that God is the author of sickness or death. The meaning of “jailer” in the Greek is of “one who causes pain”. Moreover, the “king” in the parable is not God, though we can take some lessons from the story that would indicate some of the things God might do when faced by a disobedient servant. God is not the author of disease, death, or destruction – the wages of sin lead to death. Second, that not forgiving does not take away our salvation, and third, that forgiving does not earn us our salvation. Works do not gain salvation. Salvation (in a non-juridical sense) is obtained by grace through faith in Jesus Christ – it is the gift of God made available to all [Ephesians 2:8-10]. Salvation is not owned and guarded by church doctrine. Since the Spirit of Christ is beyond the church, salvation is present wherever the Spirit of Christ is.

Peter was usually the one not to pretend. He had just asked the question that was on everyone’s mind – “How will we ever meet God’s standard?” Jesus begins with a ‘therefore’, indicating that the parable story would reaffirm what He had already said. A story well told can summarize complex principles as nothing else can. Any remaining confusion, in Peter, or in any of the others, would be washed away in the clarity, simplicity, and drama of the parable. The king is the hero of this story. The parable would have been better named, “the parable of the merciful king”.

A king that holds us to account

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. [Verses 23]

The word in Greek for “accounts” is – logos, and means, word, spoken or written, often with a focus on the content of a communication. Implicit in the story is prior words spoken and actions carried out that had resulted in a debt of 10,000 talents. Important to the story is that the servant had been directly engaged in incurring his debt. He was aware of it, but whether he was of the consequences of non-payment is doubtful – he had seemingly done nothing up to that time to honor his debt. We are introduced to the king as someone who had decided to settle his accounts but not yet to his full intent in the process.

A debt that cannot be repaid

As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. [Verse 24-25]

Many of us today owe our existence to the care, the hours of service, the immeasurable volume of prayers, and to the acts of love of others in our lives, and yet we continue to live on oblivious of those sacrifices. This is a grace beyond our understanding. If we were but to stop and take stock of our situation for a moment, we would see the debt of gratitude that we owe to others. We would see that any retort, quarrel, slight, abuse we might endure could never measure up to that debt. I am not saying by this that any abuse is acceptable, but merely pointing to the debt we owe God who remains daily silent and protective of both our public and our private sins. This is God’s grace which woos us and works to produce in us a life of thanksgiving and gratitude toward God, and toward others. 10,000 talents at a day’s wage of 1 denarius, adds up to 380,000 days of work [equivalent to 6000 lifetimes of work]. If the king’s intent was only to “settle accounts”, and not to extend mercy, we estimate that the servant would still be in jail today. 6000 lifetimes served concurrently adds up to approximately 383,000 years. Jesus had made his point – the debt we owe cannot be repaid!

A King whose mercy knows no bounds

“The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.” [Verses 26-27]

The king does not refuse the servant’s plea. He ignores the servant’s foolish claim and forgives him his debt. He chooses mercy above sacrifice. He sets the standard for forgiveness at the ‘infinite” level. I point out again here, my prior qualifications that what I see here is not a new ‘rule’ for standards of human forgiveness, but rather, the idea that forgiveness is both beyond human ability, and to be searched for as a great benefit to human and creational existence from the very bosom of the God of mercy and love on the cross of Christ.

The King, for his part here, cancels the debt without preconditions, without reserve, without retainers. He wipes the slate cleans. He blots up the transgression and renders it null and void. He completely removes it from the accounts. The largeness of the debt had revealed the largeness of the king’s heart, and answered any other possible questions the disciples might have conjured up in defense of their sense of human justice. What is more astounding about this part of the story is the servant’s blindness to the enormity of his situation. Having, to some degree, excused himself, he would later accuse another much less guilty than he.

A King that hates ingratitude

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. [Verses 28-31]

Though this king hated ingratitude, he did not take back his love. the story is not really about money, but about mercy. When we judge others, we end up being judged in the same way. The sentence the unmerciful servant pronounced over his own debtor was fulfilled in his own life. The servant was an ungrateful, unforgiving, and ungracious servant. Ingratitude forgets what others have done. Gratitude is a choice to remember that we could never repay the love we receive from those who have helped us along our way. Ingratitude is evidence that the size of a debt is underestimated. The seeds of ungraciousness were already evident in the servant’s initial plea. He begged, “Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything” [Verse 26] – he still imagined that somehow his debt could be repaid. Ingratitude is evidence either that our debt to others is completely forgotten, or is being conveniently ignored. Some have tried to anesthetize themselves against the possibility of a conviction.

From a spiritual perspective, the parable implies two things: first that our debt is too big to repay, and second, that God will not leave us where we are. The choice is ours. Many of us work a lifetime to get what others have and constantly look at the ‘greener’ grass on the other side of our situation; wish that we looked like someone else, or even that we were someone else. We are not satisfied, grateful, thankful, or full of the joy of the Holy Spirit, but God wants to bring us into a life of greater gratitude. God releases his power to us by teaching us to thank Him – as Isaiah teaches, “the joy of the Lord is our strength”.

The King sanctifies his servant through discipline

Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” Matthew 18:32-35

The mercy God gives is the mercy God works in our humanity. In other words, from a spiritual perspective, we have the benefit of serving a God who not only set the standard of righteousness for us but also fulfills it for us through death on the cross. The message of the parable is plain: that the debt others owed the servant was I million times less than the debt he owed the king [10,000 talents at 10,000 denarii per talent, equals 100,000,000 denarii, which divided by 100 denarii equals I million denarii].

Even in the drama caused by the servant’s ingratitude, the king’s mercy does not leave him, since the servant is only handed over to the jailers until… [The Greek word used is heoœs, which means “up to, until”]. The servant’s life had already been redeemed [debt fully paid], but it would need to be restored fully. Even in the face of such ingratitude, we are aware that the King’s mercy would find a way to change the servant’s heart for his eternal benefit.

Paul picks up on this valuable principle in Ephesians 4:32 as follows: “And be ye kind to one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” Jesus Christ gave himself for all while we were yet sinners [Roman 5:8], how much more should we love God. Jesus, pointing to the woman who had washed his feet with her tears, said that those who have been forgiven much will love much and that they who forgive little love little [Luke 7:47]. If the Scripture is true, “For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” [Luke 6:38], then it is true also to say that everyone is receiving what they are sowing.

The parable does not tell us the end of the servant’s story. The unspoken future would most likely have shown a king ready to re-cancel the debt when the servant released his own servant from prison. If we were there, might we have seen a glint in the king’s eye? We should not assume him lacking in humor at the ridiculous situation. He had seen his servant frantically beg to pay back a debt that he could not. The debt he owed, if the prison term was served concurrently, could not be redeemed in less than 383,000 years – now that is funny [depending, of course, on who looks at it]!

My sense is that a magnanimous and gracious King could find a lot of humor in such a situation. He had heard that the same unwise servant had seized, choked, and imprisoned someone else for a debt one million times smaller, but that could be paid with only 100 days of extra work. The King could have thought, “let’s see how long it takes for my servant to realize that his prison term depends on the state of his own heart – and on how he forgives?”

We are not told the conclusion, but what is clear for us today is that the extent of God’s love and mercy to every ‘little one’ was signaled in the event of Jesus dying on the cross for all! In the parable, he is recorded as saying, “In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost” [Matthew 18:14]. We cannot help to wonder at how many relational agonies would be instantly resolved if we would choose [with the help of the Holy Spirit – 2 Timothy 1:14] to see even our worst enemies as one of God’s “little ones”!


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No Christian Right… ultimately only Christian responsibility! [full article]

For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisers make victory sure” Solomon [Proverbs 11:14]

Some estimates say that from 1900 to 1987, governments caused the deaths of more than 169 million people. For instance, Hitler, Mao, and Stalin killed more than 100 million people. Zbigniew Brzezinski, in his insightful book titled: Global Turmoil on the Eve of the Twenty-first Century (1993) estimates that Communism killed 60 million people. He compares that stat to the 32,000 deaths of the Spanish Inquisition, and to the 1-4 million deaths of the Crusades. We can add to this the horror of more than 40 million abortions per year worldwide [some estimates put the total number of abortions currently at well over 1 Billion babies – roughly 55% legal, and 45% illegal]. In an article titled “Most teenage pregnancies now end with an abortion,” Steve Doughty of Mail Online highlights the escalating problem of pregnancies by design []. Professor Singer of Princeton University, the secular humanist, prefers killing disabled babies and to replace them with non-disabled babies [see MQ, [or moral quotient], p. 50].

Morality is a key factor in determining reasons for deaths. History has shown that life without a standard of values unravels human behavior into a whole assortment of ills such as Racism, Nazism, Nationalism, Imperialism, Secularism, Fascism, Communism, narcissism, fears of miscegenation, and eugenics. C. S. Lewis calls this a kind of Magician’s Bargain – a process whereby ‘man’ surrenders object after object, and finally himself, to Nature in return for power. Those who clamor for unrestricted freedom of expression should ask themselves at what point does the range of their swinging arm hit someone else on the nose [Centore]. Professor Singer has suggested that by 2040 “the traditional view of the sanctity of human life will collapse under pressure from scientific, technological developments” except for “only a rump of hard-core, know-nothing religious fundamentalists” [see MQ, pp. 48-49]. C. S. Lewis’ writes that if one age achieves the power, by eugenics and scientific education, to make its descendants whatever it likes, all men who live after it are patients of that power – they are weaker and not stronger [Abolition of Man, p. 68]!

Loys 2008

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The REAL “Butterfly Effect” – Order from Chaos!

The REAL “Butterfly Effect” – Order from Chaos!

A recent article discussed a facet of Chaos Theory [described as “Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions” (SDIC)]. SDIC is more commonly known as “the Butterfly Effect“[ 1]

We can have some fun with this concept by asking ourselves the question “what if?” What if I had slipped on the bath mat, and missed the phone call giving me that opportunity to hear about an offer to fly free to Acapulco? Or, what if I had looked down just as my future wife walked by on the street, and had never known the desire to meet that ‘woman’….

Frankly, folks, it is all too far-fetched. Natural and human life is much more constant and corroborated than to be dependent on the random vibrations of butterfly wings in ‘China’.[ 2] As the all-so-important wing vibrations came from a very real butterfly, and did not govern the butterfly, so all human response [random or otherwise] will continue to be governed by very real humans [irrespective of who influences them].

In sociology, no decision actually emerges alone but is rather the outflow (and consequence) of the many checks and balances (moral or otherwise) embodied in every context. And even if a decision was to be entirely original or random, a whole nation of social ‘policemen’ awaits it to shape it and to channel it to either current or to eventual order or judgment. Let us not forget that if a random act was to produce chaos, it usually pronounces its own death sentence, namely, at the hands of those who have the benefit of scrutiny (objective or subjective)! For example, even if these have tolerated it, they would be compelled eventually by an undergirding morality (True or residual) to exercise their respective authority in deciding to bury it… and so went the cold war, Nazism, revolutions, and the egos of demagogues that sought to abuse others. We ought to wonder what Victor Hugo would say if he knew the use being made of his personal abode—the place of his invectives. In an ultimate sense, therefore, neither aggressive secular sociology (through reckless randomness) nor institutional religion (through imposed rules), will achieve their power to permanently affect human affairs.

It is true however to say that the choices we make determine the courses we take. Any scientific satisfaction from scrutinizing a butterfly’s behavior pales when compared to but a glimpse of the God who created it. A creator personally involved in human affairs makes the exercise of free will not only possible but also safe. It takes precisely a loving creator to administrate to free will without outside coercion. Free will develops the circumspection to properly administer to our differences, diversity, ability, creativity in the human and creational family


[ 1] “The Butterfly Effect can be defined as scenarios where one storyline diverges at the moment of a seemingly minor event resulting in two significantly different outcomes… The term “butterfly effect” itself is related to the work of Edward Lorenz, and is based in chaos theory and sensitive dependence on initial conditions” –

[2 ] Chaos Theory stands juxtaposed to intelligent design. When an order is redefined as ‘deterministic chaos’ the ball of string begins to unravel.

[3] Randomness is not a bad thing. It is a vital part of the process of exercising and administering free will in human affairs. The error in randomness is to assume that because it is ‘random’ that it is more determinant of the future than the cohesive, ongoing, existing and living fabric that will judge it and correct it.

[4 ]  True chaos would exist if there were the slightest microscopic variations to myriad constants evident in everyday life.

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What is the ‘Rose’ among us that we should not ignore?

The ‘Rose’ (with fragrance and thorn) among us we should not ignore— Accountability
17th April 2009

The value of proper accountability in a person is the world’s best-kept secret – [Also: a secret that every guy and girl that is single should know about!]

In a recent discussion, a friend correctly pointed out the dangers of the two polarizing ‘extremities’ in the principle of accountability. First, that the recipients of our accountability can take advantage of our gift, and Second, that we might deprive ourselves of its benefits if we exclude ourselves from it. It is exactly those two potential outcomes that keep most people in the indecisive middle ground. I asked myself what am I looking for in “accountability?” Wisdom says that it should be neither unrestrained submission nor unaccountable autonomy. The first could make me a slave to the ideas of others, the second, someone entirely fulfilled in his own opinions.

I remember something a mother of three children said when asked by a group of American leaders as to why she had decided to emigrate with her husband to a foreign land. She said, “I went because I knew that my husband was not a lone ranger on his own mission, but listens to and invites the counsel of his leaders before he makes up his own mind”.

The Secret

This ‘accountability’ is a “secret,” something very special also to those who follow their dreams into new and unknown paths  — that even when “authority” had been excessive or misguided, accountability helps us to recover lost ground and to forge new ones. This ‘Rose’ of accountability comes with both ‘fragrance’ (its beauty, seed, and scent) and ‘thorn’ (those other ‘commitment’ bits that surround its stem).



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