Matthew 18:21-35

1. Introduction
The topic of forgiveness is a subject that is raised continually in the bible—Old Testament and New Testament alike. So much so, that there is a danger of it being too familiar—an issue that can be easily glossed over. Despite that, the bible teaches that forgiveness is essential. Because without it we cannot be reconciled with God, and we cannot be reconciled with each other either. Forgiveness, then, is an essential part of our faith journey—not an optional extra.

Furthermore, whilst the topic of forgiveness runs throughout the whole bible, without a doubt, it culminates in the person of Jesus. Someone had to pay the price for sin. It was the reason for his existence, and forgiveness was central to his teaching. So, in this passage from Matthew’s gospel we have some words of Jesus that, perhaps, puts the whole issue of forgiveness into some sort of perspective. And I’d like to draw attention to three things:

2. God’s Forgiveness
The first is that it is God who has given us the gift of forgiveness (23-27). It is God’s initiative, and something that is completely undeserved.

Now as the story goes there was a king, and he had many servants who managed his affairs, and the king thought it was time to see how they were managing his money. So he initiated an interview with an official who was responsible for ten thousand talents of his money. Now whether the man could not account for the money through dishonesty or incompetence, we don’t know. But, whatever the reason, he was unable to give the king back his money. So the king issued a decree that the defaulter, and his wife and children, be sold into slavery. The man had run up a huge debt, and now he had to the penalty.

Of course, all this spelled disaster for the unfortunate servant. With such a huge debt, and with all his assets sold, there was no chance of him ever being free again. His only hope was to throw himself at the mercy of the king. So he wholeheartedly pleaded for mercy. He fell down and prostrated himself, even though he knew that he had no hope of paying back the debt. This was no half-hearted plea. His plight was desperate, and he was ready to promise anything.

And fortunately for him, the king was compassionate. His initial anger was replaced with compassion, and he did more than the man asked. He released the man, and he forgave him his debt.

This first part of this story, then, serves to illustrate God’s forgiveness. It illustrates that no matter what we do we can never repay God the debt we owe for the sins we have committed. We rely totally on his grace.

3. Our Forgiveness of Others
The second thing, however, is to understand the magnitude of what God has done, compared with the way he expects us to treat others (28-30).

Because in our story we find that the man who had been let off a debt of ten thousand talents then confronts a man who owes him a hundred denarii.

Now what we have to understand, here, is the magnitude of the amounts concerned. Ten thousand talents would have been the earnings of a farm labourer had he worked every day for 160,000 years. On the other hand, a hundred denarii would have taken only a hundred working days to earn. In other words the man who had been forgiven a debt that he could not possibly repay was being asked to forgive another man who owed him far far less.

But did the man forgive him? Did he let him off the debt, as the king had done to him? No! He had the man thrown into prison where he knew only too well that it would be impossible for the man to pay off the debt.

This second part of the story then, serves as a comparison between the magnitude of God’s forgiveness, and the relatively small debts that others owe us.

4. The Price for Failing to Forgive
And the third thing is that there are repercussions for failing to forgive others (31-34).

Now the king’s other servants were evidently disgusted with the man who had been forgiven much, so they told the king what had ensued. And, of course, when the king heard what his servant had done to the man who owed him so little in comparison, he had his servant brought to him and he confronted him about the injustice. The king had forgiven him a debt that would have been impossible to repay—he had received such striking generosity. So why couldn’t he have been generous in return. He had pleaded for mercy for himself, but where was the mercy he needed to show to the other man?

So, the king, angry with his official, took action. He handed the man over to be tortured. And there he was to remain in jail until his entire debt was discharged—which would never have happened.

This third part of the story, therefore, serves to illustrate how God views any lack of forgiveness on our part. After all, if God can forgive us so much, isn’t it only a small thing to expect us to forgive others, as a result.

5. Conclusion
Forgiveness then, is a very important aspect of our lives. It is a gift from God. It was his initiative in the beginning and is something that is totally undeserved—and without it we would have no hope of a relationship with him.

God’s forgiveness shows us the magnitude of what God has done, and we need to reciprocate by forgiving the relatively minor offences (in comparison) of those who do us wrong. However, we need to remember that forgiveness comes at a price—that there is a penalty for lack of forgiveness. Indeed, if we can’t forgive others, then we can hardly expect God to forgive us either.

Posted 11th April 2019
© 2019, Brian A Curtis