This parable reveals the operating principle of God's kingdom - the operating principle by which God relates to those united to him by faith in his Son, Jesus Christ, and the operating principle by which he expects us to relate to one another: it is the principle of forgiveness.

The parable also reveals that it is only possible for this principle to govern our lives if

  • we acknowledge our own deep spiritual destitution in the presence of God, realising that we are personally incapable of meriting either God's announcement of acquittal or his favour;
  • we believe that God means it when he says we are forgiven, and
  • we realize and appreciate what it cost him to forgive us.

The servant in this parable failed at each of these counts: he did not understand his own destitution; he did not believe or understand the master's word remitting the debt; lacking in these two areas he also lacked the third - he had no appreciation of the master's action.

Because he failed in these, he also failed to forgive. Instead of going out from his master filled with joy because he was liberated forever from a million-dollar debt, he went out with the mentality of one who still owed the debt, who still had to pay. Seeing a fellow-servant who owed him a few dollars he grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and demanded payment. Then, when that servant begged him for pity, had him thrown in jail because he could not pay.

He had not grasped the meaning of forgiveness. He had not understood the message of forgiveness. He had not believed his master's word of forgiveness.

He had not received the forgiveness that his master had proclaimed. He had not come under its banner of freedom, peace and joy. It was not possible for him to see himself other than as someone who had an enormous debt that had to be paid sometime.

This parable boldly confronts each one of us with the question: have I understood, believed and received to myself God's Word of forgiveness that I have heard? Am I living in the amazing and indescribable peace, liberation and joy of God's forgiveness? Or, am I, like this servant, still living as though I have to pay for my sins, as though I have to gain and maintain credit in God's sight?

Scriptures: Matthew 18:21-35; Ephesians 4:32-5:2; Colossians 3:13.

Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2004, 2010