I’ve had so many people say to me over the years, “The teaching of Jesus is just so encouraging! I love it so much!”
And certainly, I agree with this sentiment.
However, I also wonder if these people have read all of His teaching?
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Because as I much as I revere the words of Jesus as holy, God-breathed, life-giving, life-changing, uplifting, and powerful, much of His words are also amongst the most hard-hitting that I have ever read.
Amongst the parables of Jesus, there are many that challenge, but there is one that stands out to me as the scariest of all, scary in a “gut-check, fear-of-the-Lord” sort of way.
Behold the Word of the Lord:
23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 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.
26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Mt 19.23-35)
Ooof. Take a moment just to pause. Take a breath. Reflect for a minute. Read it again.
It is so easy to read God’s Word and be thinking, “Oh, I see how this applies to my spouse/sibling/pastor/friend/boss/etc.,” but that is absolutely the wrong approach.
Our primary response to the conviction of Scripture is to look to the plank in our own eye first and foremost (Mt 7.3-5). What is the Lord saying to me about me through His Word?
Some of Jesus’ parables are more mysterious and tougher to decipher, but this one is very clear.
We are the first servant of the story. God is the king. Our brothers and sisters are the second servant.
It has been estimated that the value of the 10,000 bags of gold would be in the billions of dollars in today’s money. The servant’s pleas for time to pay it back are ridiculous. How can a servant possibly find that much money? What are they going to do, go and create the next Facebook and give the king all the profits?
The point is that it is an impossible, crushing, insurmountable debt. It cannot be paid back. There is no way the servant can earn their way out of this.
But the king is good. Unbelievably good, truly. There is compassion. There is mercy. The servant asks for time, but instead the king cancels the entire debt and lets the man go, completely consequence-free.
Again, that man is us. The debt is our sin. We owe God something that we cannot possibly pay for.
And yet, like this man, God has cancelled our entire debt. In Jesus, through His Cross and resurrection, the impossible debt has been wiped clean and we are free and clear as we stand before Him (Heb 10.14).
But this servant then goes out and sees a fellow servant who owes him something. And it is not a pittance – the amount is worth thousands of dollars. The debt is legitimate, and any one of us in real life would likely want that money back.
But the king sees the staggering hypocrisy of the first servant, owing billions, angry over the thousands owed him, punishing his fellow servant and refusing to show any of the mercy he had just received.
The king is good and compassionate, but his patience and mercy apparently have a limit. This double standard will not stand.
The first servant had received undeserved forgiveness, and so was expected to show forgiveness to others, even if underserved. It was the height of hypocrisy not to.
And the consequences were severe. Jail, punishment, until the original debt can be repaid – which we know will never, ever happen. It is undeniably a life-sentence of torture.
And then, the chilling final line:
35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
For the forgiven to not forgive is hypocrisy. It makes God angry. It apparently brings terrifying consequences, with some even believing that this suggests that our unforgiveness puts our eternity at risk, as Jesus had previously taught that if we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven (Mt 5.14-15), and no one gets to Heaven if they still have sins standing against them.
Although that debate is not what this particular column is about, surely it can be agreed that the intensity of the language of the parable shows the seriousness with which God takes this issue.
So we must learn to release people from what we feel they owe us. We don’t do so because they deserve it – they may very well not.
We do so because we have been forgiven more than we could possibly repay, and out of the great grace and mercy shown to us, we extend that same grace and mercy to one another.
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