The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
Kim Phuc was severely injured as a girl in 1972 by napalm bombs dropped by U.S. military planes during the Vietnam War. A journalist snapped a famous photo of Phuc during the attack that caused outrage worldwide about how the war affected children. Phuc endured 17 operations during the years after the attack that took the lives of some of her family members, and she still suffers pain today. Yet Phuc says she heard God calling her to forgive those who hurt her. In 1996, during Veterans Day ceremonies at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., Phuc met the pilot who had coordinated the bombing attack. Thanks to God's power working within her, Phuc says, she was able to forgive the pilot. She knew God’s grace deep within her heart and was able to extend that grace to the one who had caused her such pain.
(Here is a link to see Kim Phuc telling her story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWH2Vi0PcoI)
Our reading today is all about forgiveness: receiving forgiveness for ourselves and us forgiving others. Peter was particularly interested in how often we should be willing to forgive members of our church community who have hurt or wronged us, or whom we are holding a grudge against. Jesus’ answer was 77 times, or in other words, so many times that you can’t keep track. Jesus then told the parable of the unforgiving servant.
One of the king’s slaves owed him ten thousand talents, which represented a working man’s wages for 200,000 years. OK maybe Jesus was using a bit of hyperbole in his storytelling here, but clearly this slave would never be able to repay his debt. However, the King was expecting him to pay by selling everything he had, including his wife and family. The slave fell on his knees and pleaded with him, and the King felt sorry for him and forgave him the debt. Each of us in in need of forgiveness from God. However good we think we are, however hard we try to please God, we still sin and our debt is so much that we could never repay it. God our Father knows our weakness. When we acknowledge before Him our inability to pay and plead with Him for mercy, He is willing to forgive us. God is deeply moved in his pity of our sinful state. His son Jesus died on the cross for each one of us: the debt that we could never pay has been paid in full. This is GRACE:
God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense – an acronym that helps me to appreciate this wonderful gift from God. We do not have to live in guilt, because Jesus has set us free.
Now this same slave, who in Jesus’ parable had been released from his impossibly big debt, expects a fellow slave who owes him money to pay up. The amount owed was far smaller – about 100 days’ wages, so with a bit of patience, the slave would have been able to repay his debt. However, his pleadings for mercy fell on deaf ears and he was cast into prison. The other slaves reported the distressing incident to the King, whose pity turned to anger at the unforgiving servant who hadn’t learned to appreciate and replicate the mercy that he had received. Do we appreciate the forgiveness we have received? Those who fail to see how much they have been forgiven will find it harder to extend forgiveness to others. It is not an easy thing to forgive others who have upset us, mistreated us or spoken against us. So, how can we be so full of God’s grace that we are enabled to be gracious to each other? Surely, we don’t want to be like the unforgiving servant, who was punished for his lack of forgiveness.
Why are we so slow to forgive?
• Maybe we don’t expect our fellow Christians to wrong us
• Perhaps we have a poor perspective of how much we have been forgiven. We think ’I am a pretty good person’.
• Or maybe we fear being seen as weak or likely to being taken advantage of. We don’t want to become a doormat. Are we willing to take that risk and recognise that forgiving is an active, not a passive thing?
Can I ask, who is the hardest to forgive? The person who doesn’t think they have wronged you, or the person who has wronged you is someone close to you? Do we harbour bitterness or unforgiveness toward someone else? Our unwillingness to forgive can rebound on us. Beware the grudges and resentments. We need to resolve issues with fellow Christians and forgive from the heart.
I ask again, how can we be so full of God’s grace that we are enabled to be gracious to each other? There is no magic formula, but I do believe that God in His mercy wants us to experience His grace by an ongoing threefold process:
1. We confess our sin and need of God’s forgiveness with our lips. We did this together in our Liturgy this morning and it is an important part of our worship. In our times of personal prayer also, we can confess our sin and thank God for His grace to us.
2. We make a mental connection with the words we have said. Our repentance must be sincere and we need to understand what God, in Christ has done for us in cancelling our debt of sin. It is helpful to read our Bibles or Lectionary Readings regularly so that we feed our minds with the Word of God, in order that we can know, and appreciate, how Jesus has enabled us to become Children of God.
3. We ask the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts so that we can truly know the grace of God at a deep level of our being. The joy of the Lord will then be our strength. This is not a one-off thing, but a daily everyday faith experience. God gives His Holy Spirit to all who genuinely seek this gift. This morning, ask Him to fill you with the Spirit, so that you can live a grace-filled life.
I want to close with a verse from St. Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus.
‘And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God also in Christ forgave you.’ Ephesians 4:32