Unmerciful Servants and the Immigration Debate

Unmerciful Servants and the Immigration Debate January 4, 2019

The Christian life is about the management of the things God has entrusted us with. Everything we have has been given to us, and we are called to steward those resources in a way that honors our Creator. This includes things like our finances and the planet, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

The New Testament tells us that we must share the mercy and forgiveness we receive from God. We’re are not just beneficiaries of grace; we are stewards. Our lives should demonstrate that mercy actually does triumph over judgment.

This is a truth that’s completely missing from most evangelical discussions about immigration.

Lessons from an unmerciful servant

In Matthew 18, Peter asks Jesus how many times we should forgive others. Jesus offers a profound stewardship parable. It seems there’s a servant who owes his master a debt that—even if he lived a thousand lifetimes—he’d never be able to repay. When the master demands to be paid back, the servant begs for extra time.

In an act of unbelievable benevolence, the master completely cancels the debt.

For the first time, the servant leaves the master’s presence without the specter of debt hanging over his head. But then he immediately runs into a fellow servant who owes him a small amount of money, and he roughs the other servant up, demanding repayment.

Similar to the request the original servant made to his master, this man asks for more time to scrounge up the money to repay. But the servant who just experienced mercy refuses to extend it. He throws the other servant in debtor’s prison until the debt is paid off.

When the master finds out about how ungraciously the servant has behaved, he’s furious. Despite the abounding mercy the servant received, he is unable to extend kindness to others.

Contextually, Jesus is telling Peter (and us) that we are responsible for sharing the gifts God gives us. If we receive forgiveness, we are expected to extend it. If we are the beneficiaries of grace, we are to be benefactors, too.

To quote Jesus, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8b).

We who have so much

If you were born in the United States, you simply won the birth lottery. You might believe it to be an act of providence or a random act of chance, but it’s not because of anything you worked to achieve. You don’t deserve to be surrounded by plenty any more than an infant in Yemen deserves to die of hunger.

If the master is angry because the recipient of forgiveness can’t be bothered to extend it, how much angrier is he when those with excess erect walls to protect what they have from those who have nothing? He must be furious when folks who benefit from his blessings refuse to extend them.  

It often seems that Christians fetishize a strange hyper-spiritual view of grace that requires no real expression in the lives of Christ followers. God extends unwarranted benevolence to us, but we merely receive that generosity without feeling any responsibility to share it.

I’m sure the unmerciful servant would be able to come up with excuses for his lack of mercy, but it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how well we demonize others or justify ourselves. The economy of the Kingdom of God is clear: freely you have received, freely give.  


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