The unforgiving servant

In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus shares a parable about a man who is called before a king to pay his debts. Think like $10M in debt. The number doesn't matter except to make the point that this man could not repay his debt in a thousand lifetimes. The king shows mercy and forgives the man his debt.

The servant then goes out and find a man who owes him maybe $10. He beats the man and has him thrown into jail since he was not able to pay the debt. The text rightly refers to this guy as the "Wicked servant." The story continues and the king finds out about the actions of the wicked servant. So, the king withdraws his mercy and throws the man into prison.

Jesus ends the story with a warning saying, "So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from the heart." Is this what the kingdom of God is like? Is this a vengeful God looking for those who do not forgive so he can cast them into outer darkness? We tend to see a God who is waiting to punish us when we mess up, so we read that into the story. 

It's easy to get that picture from a cursory reading of the text, but I don't think that is what Jesus is saying. This is part of a larger point he makes on several occasions. How can I receive forgiveness if I hold unforgiveness in my heart? How can I receive the love of God when I hate others? We cannot, because opening our inner self to receive love changes us and that love will then flow from our lives. This wicked servant was not changed by the mercy of this king. He went out of the king's presence holding tightly to his resentment and unforgiving attitude toward others. He blocked the flow of mercy from himself to the second debtor. 

That is the warning Jesus gives to us. Let go and receive all that God has for you. Open your heart to his love, mercy, forgiveness and kindness. Those blessings will then reach all the other lives you encounter along the way.

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