Summary: Parables for Stewards, Pt. 2
TO FORGIVE IS HUMAN (MATTHEW 18:21-35)
Some officers during the Korean War rented a house for themselves and hired a Korean houseboy to work for them. He was a cheerful, happy soul, and they were young and had a lot of fun playing tricks on him.
The officers would nail his shoes to the floor, and they would put water up over the door so that when he pushed it open the bucket would fall on him. They played all kinds of tricks, but he always took them in such a beautiful, good humor that they finally became ashamed for themselves.
The men called him in one day and said, “We’ve been doing all these mean things to you and you have taken it so beautifully. We just want to apologize to you and tell you that we are never going to do those things again.” He said, “You mean no more nail shoes to floor?” They said, “No more.” He said, “You mean no more water on door?” They said, “No more.” “Okay then,” he said, “no more spit in soup!”
The parables in Matthew have their distinctive features. They are called the parables of the kingdom of heaven and most of them begin with the classic statement that is unique to Matthew: “The kingdom of heaven is like…” (Matt 13:33-52, 20:1, 22:2, 25:1-14). In Matthew 18, Jesus stressed that forgiveness is the mark of kingdom citizens. God in Christ has forgiven us of our sins (1 John 1:9), our debts and our transgressions or unrighteousness (Rom 4:7).
Why has God forgiven us of our sins? How serious was the offense? In what way can we repay His forgiveness?
You are a Debtor
21 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?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. 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 talents 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 “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. (Matt 18:21-27)
My favorite Broadway musical of all time is Les Miserables, which beautifully contrasts law and grace, condemnation and forgiveness, justice and mercy. A man who spent 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread became a bitter, hardened and destructive man at his release. When he was recaptured for stealing things from a church, the kind bishop, instead of turning him in, assured the police that they were gifts from him, not stolen.
Jean Valjean, given a second chance, changed his name, identity and act, skipped parole and ended up in a small town, becoming the town mayor, benefactor and philanthropist. A detective, Javert, however, was determined to take him to justice for parole violation, no matter what good he had done and how far he had run.
Many times Jean Valjean miraculously and barely escaped Inspector Javert’s long arms of the laws. Still, when Jean Valjean learned that the inspector was captured by revolutionary-bent students in the dark days before the French Revolution, he risked his life to save Javert from execution, thereafter turning himself in to the exasperated police. Javert, instead of saying thanks and expressing gratitude, said, “You annoy me. Kill me rather.” He could not accept kindness from a criminal and yet he could not bring himself to arrest his savior. Xavier took the only way and the tragic way out of his self-imposed prison and rigid stand: he committed suicide. The man who swore to uphold the law and to abide by justice refused to be held hostage by mercy or love!
You are a debtor, not “were a debtor,” but “are a debtor.” God in Christ has forgiven you more than you would ever know or you could ever count.
Rabbinical law asserts a man should forgive his debtor up to four times, but Jesus knew no such figures and set no countable limits. The first debtor owes ten thousand talents, which is an astronomical figure. The talent was the greatest denomination in the accounting of money or weight. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia comments that a talent could be either of silver or gold, and the estimated worth is about 410 British pounds or $2,050 (in 1915) for the silver talent and 6,150 British pounds or $30,750 (in 1915) for the gold. We are not told if the talent owed was in gold or silver, but 10,000 silver talents equal $20.5 billion (The figure is so large that my small calculator could only say “E 3.075”!) and 10,000 gold talents equal $307.5 billion - in 1915. According to NIV’s translation of Revelation 16:21, the one talent “hailstone” in Greek is about 100 pounds heavy each.