At that time, Jesus said this parable, “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also My heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Matthew 18: 23-35 (Gospel from the Eleventh Sunday of Matthew)
A parable is a story that sometimes has a hidden meaning but a real life application. In today’s parable a king wanted to settle accounts with one of his servants. One servant was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. A “talent” in the time of Christ was an amount of money equivalent to what a person could earn in ten years of work. So, ten thousand talents was an obscene amount of money. Imagine that a person earns $100,000 a year, so one talent would be basically one million dollars. Ten thousand times one million is ten trillion dollars, a number so high we could not even fathom that. A number so high that if you were in debt, you couldn’t possibly pay that off. The “lord” ordered him to be sold into slavery with all of his family and payment to be made. The servant implored the lord, “have patience with me, and I will pay you everything. And the lord forgave him everything, ten billion dollars the lord forgave.
Now that same servant, when he left his lord and went home, presumably happy that his debt was forgiven, elated with his new lease on life, saw one of his own servants who owed him one hundred denarii. This is equivalent to one hundred days work. Let’s say, for the same of round numbers, one third of his work year, or $30,000. This man, who had just been saved from a ten billion dollar debt, was asked by his servant to be patient while the debt was paid off. His servant didn’t ask for the debt to be forgiven, only to be patient while he paid if off. The servant who was owed the money had no patience or mercy. He ordered the man thrown into prison until he could pay off the debt, which obviously meant he would be in prison forever.
When people saw what took place, they went to the lord and reported what they saw. The lord summoned the servant back. This time he addressed him in anger. The lord told him that he was forgiven so much, and yet had no mercy for his fellow servant who owed him so little. And then the lord put him in jail.
So, what are the lessons here? First, the “lord” is our Lord. We are like the servants who owe Him a debt. What is the debt we owe Him? Well, we’ve sinned innumerable times—maybe not ten billion times but certainly more times than we can count. We deserve to be put in prison (sent to hell) for eternity. Yet, the Lord is willing to forgive and show mercy to us, even ten billion times. So, if he can forgive us ten billion times, we are expected to forgive and have mercy on those who have wronged us much less. I don’t know anyone who has wronged me ten billion times and I assume you don’t either.
If we cannot show mercy to our neighbors, Jesus is not going to show mercy to us, when we gather before Him for the reckoning of our souls. And like the “lord” in the parable, He will be angry with us, consigning us to prison (hell) not because of what we’ve done (sin) but because of what we failed to do (forgive and show mercy).
The message of today’s Gospel is that we need to forgive and have mercy on one another, if we expect forgiveness and mercy from God. As Jesus said in Matthew 18: 23 “So also My heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” Forgiveness is important. So is mercy. Mercy is giving the thing that someone doesn’t deserve and giving it anyway. A person who owes someone a lot of money and can’t pay deserves to go to jail. Mercy is when you spare someone the punishment they deserve. God is willing to spare us the punishment for our sins by allowing us to enter in His Kingdom. However, if we are unwilling to spare others, forgive and show mercy to them, even when they don’t deserve it, God is not going to be willing to do that for us either.
Not barring the stone of the tomb from being sealed shut, You rose and You granted unto all the rock of faith. Glory to You, O Lord. (First Resurrectional Kathisma of the second set, Second Tone, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
We must forgive and show mercy, even to those who don’t deserve it, if we expect to receive mercy and forgiveness from the Lord!