Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor
Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!
“Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.
“But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.
“But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. “His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.
“When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.
“That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.” Matthew 18:21-35 NLT
Lord, please guide my words and let me communicate your truth and love and add nothing that will bring harm to anyone who is struggling with forgiveness. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.
One of my favorite sayings goes something like this: Forgiveness is a choice and it’s a gift we give to ourselves. We forgive not because they deserve it, but because we deserve it. (credit unknown)
STOP! Before you close this blog thinking it’s another wasted effort on the benefit of forgiveness, please let me explain something about forgiveness:
When we forgive:
- we do not forfeit the pain, the hurt, or pretend it didn’t happen, nor do we have to give our trust back to an individual.
- we must remember forgiveness is not association. In other words, we do not have to reconcile a relationship when we forgive, especially if the offender is an abuser or a repeat offender.
- we can leave first and forgive next. Sometimes we must stay away for safety.
- we should not delay forgiveness until an offender’s behavior changes, because changes may never happen. If that is your situation, see #3.
- even if an abuser repents or stops their injurious behavior, it may be sensible to use caution around them and/or choose not to associate with that person. This is especially true if reconciliation could endanger you or a family member if there is a relapse.
Sometimes the only solution in a dangerous situation is to leave first, then work on healing and forgiveness when you are safe.
A personal example and a clear warning: As a child (7 years old), my mother chose to leave my father, an abusive alcoholic, as it was clear he had no intentions of changing his behavior. Eventually we were finally safe when she fled, but we did not get professional help so we could all learn to heal through forgiveness.
“Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” Hebrews 12:15 NLT
Skipping that step caused damage to my heart and negatively impacted my life. Like the servant in the parable, I was a tortured prisoner…, tortured by myself, my own fears, and bitterness. Eventually, I did choose forgiveness and my heart healed but not until I was 44 years old. Horrible truth. I pray if you and your family are in a comparable situation you learn and embrace forgiveness by attending a good Bible believing and teaching church and by seeking the help of a sound Christian Counselor.
Today I am picking up where I left off writing from the book of Matthew. Naturally, the Lord gave me a tough topic but I’m relying heavily on Him to guide me. If there are errors, they are mine and not the Lord’s.
The verses we read today seem like two different stories, but they are not. It’s one story and it is all about choosing to forgive…, or not.
When we look at Peter’s question to Jesus in our opening verse, we see he might have developed an issue with someone about forgiveness. In fact, he has already pre-determined the number of times we should offer forgiveness (seven times), which might have coincided with the number of times Peter had already forgiven that person!
But Jesus takes Peter (and us) by surprise and not only rebukes Peter’s answer but tells him he is to forgive multiple times. My Bible commentary suggest that Jesus was implying our forgiveness should be endless.
Then Jesus launches into a parable.
So, what is a parable?
Definition – usually a short fictitious story that illustrates a moral attitude or a religious principle; provides an instructive example or lesson.
Jesus talks about a king who decided to audit his financial accounts. He notices he has one servant who owed him large sums of money and he demands repayment. The servant tells the king he has no way to pay the debt, so the king orders the servant, his family, and all assets sold to settle the account.
The servant, stricken with fear, begs for more time to repay the debt. His plea must have been heart rendering, because the king takes pity on the servant and instead of giving him more time to repay, he does something amazing; he forgives his enormous debt. WOW!
Immediately leaving the king’s presence, the servant does not collapse to his knees in relief and shout hallelujah’s telling everyone about the king’s magnificent mercy. Instead, he does just the opposite and is cruel to another man who is indebted to him.
We receive no explanation why the servant does this, however, we learn when the king hears about the servant’s cruelty, he immediately retracted his gift, threw him in prison, with instructions to torture the servant until his enormous debt was paid in full.
Finally, Jesus ends the parable with a warning to Peter that this (imprisonment and torture) is what will happen to him should he choose to withhold forgiveness. Then Jesus adds to the warning: it must be true forgiveness from the heart.
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:14 NLT
As I stated earlier, I struggled with forgiveness from the time we escaped from our abusive situation, until I was 44 years old. My heart was ridiculously hard where my father was concerned. My justification for my anger and unforgiveness was the long-term impact his poor behavior had on our family. I openly hated him and took a hard stance to never forgive him for what we endured.
Let me be candid about that choice: that decision didn’t harm him, he went merrily along with his life, but it made a mess of mine! It created a deep and wide chasm of anger, bitterness, and serious trust issues. My commitment to that decision was so strong, I carried it way past my father’s death (he died when I was in my early twenties). I put myself in prison and tortured myself waiting for an amendment that never came from him when he was alive and certainly wasn’t going to happen after he died.
Then one day Jesus extended an unbelievable and very personal act of mercy to me through a pastor’s message. He said:
If you are listening to me today and you are the victim of abuse by a parent, I have a special message for you:
I am so sorry.
I fell to pieces, y’all. Until that very moment, I didn’t realize the amendment I was seeking was an apology. Suddenly, the chains around my heart broke free and I became a free woman with those four words. The healing process began, and the self-torture ended.
Jesus knew I was seeking something I couldn’t even put into words, so He handed me that gift because he knew the depths of my heart. That day, I surrendered my heart and my hurt to Jesus. When I did that (not just spoken words but a surrender from my heart) He took my unforgiveness, my past, present, and future sins and forgave my enormous debt. What I received that day was something much better than anything my own biological father could have ever given me.
You may be thinking, “So why do horrible things happen to good people?” The answer is as hard as it is easy; free will. God gave us an enormous and powerful gift; He gave us free will to make our own choices and decisions. Sometimes we make the right choices; however, sometimes we make bad choices and when we do, we hurt others. (We are all guilty.)
While it may be tempting to take revenge, there is no healing in revenge, only more pain and suffering. God tells us:
“Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord.” Romans 12:19 NLT
My father lived recklessly for years, but eventually he died a terrible and painful death from the effects of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of forty-nine. However, it wasn’t his death that brought me peace, it was forgiving him.
Truth Bomb: When I refused to forgive him; I kept the offense alive and repeated his behavior of hate, and I hurt innocent victims.
Forgiveness is something you must choose to do, whether you feel like it or not. When I finally realized what I was doing to myself and others, my choice to forgive my father was not a “once and done” thing. I had to choose to forgive him multiple times, but you know what happened? Eventually, my feelings got in line with my choice, and I can say I finally truly forgave my father, from my heart, for what he did to me and my family.
A big lesson I learned from my own personal experience is that I am not without sin or in need of forgiveness—from God and others. No, I didn’t abuse anyone physically, but I can cut you down at the knees with my words. I speak this truth in shame. I have had to apologize for my own bad choices more than once. But just like that king in our parable, Jesus had mercy on me, because He wanted to forgive my huge debts (sins).
“Create in me a clean heart, O God.” Psalm 51:10a
When I shed the past pain and my sins to Jesus, the Lord went right to work on my heart!
“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.” Ezekiel 36:26 NLT
Make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you [Cecilia], so you must forgive others.”
I have one last word of repeat advice to parents who have escaped an abusive situation: get Christian professional help for yourself and your child(ren) because leaving is not enough! You must address the abuse for the health and well-being of yourself, and your child(ren). Had my mother known to do this, it would have been a blessing for her, me, and my siblings. We would not have grown up with so many misunderstandings, bitterness, and pain. A Christian counselor would have used the Word of God to heal our internal and unseen wounds.
Remember, forgiveness doesn’t happen overnight, so give yourself grace on the journey, but don’t give up (seventy times seven–Matthew 18:22).
As a reminder, your past cannot change, but you can change yourself with the help of Jesus.
“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” Ephesians 2:8
To be unforgiving is a dangerous choice to make because Jesus says:
“But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:15 NLT
Is that a burden you think you can carry alone?
Closing Prayer: Jesus, thank You for never giving up on me despite my hardened heart. Thank You for never stop whispering to me even when I wouldn’t listen. Thank You when I finally was so exhausted from the battle, I truly listened to Your words, and they captured my heart. Thank You for loving me, Jesus, even when I was the most unlovable. Your love and mercy continue to astound me every day. In the name of Jesus, I thank You for Your mercies, and I also pray I gave justice to Your words today. Amen.