Judgement has been brought into the present — Matthew 18:28–35

Humility and forgiveness — Part 1

40 blogs of Lent — day 40

The servant in the passage had a massive debt forgiven after pleading for more time when threatened with jail for owing so much. The king cancels the whole debt.

A large man is silhouetted against a barred window, probably a prison cell.
Photo by Donald Tong on Pexels.com

28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii,* and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers,[l] until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

* The ESV footnote reads, “A denarius was a day’s wage for a labourer.”

Matthew 18:28–35 ESV UK

Having autism makes me prone to overthinking. In this case I got on to wondering how the king could have not noticed the debt the servant owed him as it was larger than a country’s GDP. Why had the country not gone bankrupt? Another problem is being literal when like this being a parable, the style is figurative. Fortunately I also think visually, so this blog is based on pictures in my head.

Have patience with me, and I will pay you,” the same words used by the servant when he pleaded with the king. When the servant pleaded to be forgiven a massive debt the king forgave him, yet when a fellow servant pleads to be forgiven, it is still a substantial amount, about a third of a year’s salary, but it is do-able. You can believe that this could be payed back. Yet the fellow servant, who could have paid his debt back, is not given that opportunity.

Then comes the problematic bit. The king hears of this and cancels the cancellation of the debt. The servant who has escaped jail is jailed. As the king in the story represents God, does God take his forgiveness back?

No, of course not. The thing to remember is that forgiveness and repentance are closely tied together. Jesus opened his ministry by preaching repentance, as did the apostles at Pentecost. The question to ask about the servant is not was he forgiven, but did he repent. It is one of those ‘by their fruit you will know them’ moments. (Matthew 7:16).

Look at the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus taught his followers to pray forgive us as we forgive those who sin against us. (Matthew 6:12) and even goes on to say, if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:15). James said that faith which does not show itself in action is dead. (James 2:17).

Had this servant, who had managed to embezzle a massive fortune, repented of his greed when he had a man who owed him a payable amount thrown in jail? No, I’m afraid not. He was just as greedy as before. God is not looking for us to say we are sorry but for us to repent, which means turning our back on the thing we repent of. Thinking we can deliberately carry on as we did before and just keep saying sorry is not what earns the forgiveness of God, true repentance earns God’s forgiveness. It may start with a ‘sorry,’ and God gives us the strength to carry on to full repentance, and we do fail, sometimes spectacularly, but there is an element of intent in our failure.

We as Christians believe in the judgement of God at the end of time, but the death of Jesus brings both the forgiveness of God into the present day. In the same way as the unforgiving servant was judged immediately we can be sure that those who do wrong and prosper have already been judged in the kingdom of God which is here on earth, no matter what it may look like in worldly terms. Jesus is judging, but Jesus is still loving and his message is still the one it was when he started his ministry, repent and believe the Good News. While you are alive, while I am alive, it is never too late to repent.

Full repentance is something we arrive at by walking with Jesus. Full forgiveness is ours now as we journey with him. Jesus has died, the price has been paid.

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