Jesus once told a parable about two servants. The first servant owed a king the enormous sum of 10,000 talents, which translates into billions of dollars today. It is inconceivable anyone could repay this kind of debt, let alone a servant, which is exactly the point Jesus wanted to make. The king commanded the servant’s family and possessions be sold to settle his account. Everything he had worked for would be taken away and the people he loved most would be treated like property by strangers. His heart crushed, the servant fell on his knees and begged for mercy, and incredibly, the king relented and forgave his debt. It is hard to imagine a happier ending. It is also hard to believe what happened next.
The servant who had been shown grace was also owed a debt by a second servant. It was an inconsequential debt compared to his, but that didn’t seem to matter. He grabbed the servant by the throat, choked him and demanded payment. When the second servant begged for mercy, the first servant had him thrown into prison. Things might have ended there if it hadn’t been for some other servants who witnessed everything and reported the incident to the king. The king was outraged! He confronted the first servant with his wrong: “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had on you?” Then he turned the first servant over to his jailers to be tortured until he was able to pay back the debt he had been forgiven, virtually insuring he would suffer forever.
This parable illustrates Jesus’ fifth Beatitude perfectly: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7). It came in response to a question by Peter, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21). Jesus answered, “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times!” Then He told this parable.
What do you suppose Peter thought about Jesus’ answer before he heard the parable? Did he run the numbers in his head and try to paint a mental picture of what it might mean to forgive someone seventy-seven times? Or did he hear Jesus’ real message? Mercy wasn’t about numbers. It was about treating others as God treats us and learning to forgive our brothers from the heart (Matthew 18:35). Our ability to embrace this principle will greatly impact our posture toward others, especially when we feel offended. It will also define our relationship with God. This latter point is the biggest reason to make sure we live lives of mercy.