The parable that convicts me most is often called the “Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.” It is found in Matthew 18:21-35 and has a way of reminding us all we have short memories. The parable was a response to Peter’s question, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother who sins against me; seven times?”
In the parable a king settled some accounts with his servants and discovered one of them was short by an enormous amount. We are told the servant owed the king ten thousand talents. A talent was a weight measure in ancient times, and if the material was gold, the debt would have had a modern value in the billions! The king decided to put his servant in prison, sell his possessions and enslave his family, but when the servant begged for mercy he forgave him his debt. It is hard to imagine a king being this gracious, but this is Jesus’ story, and we can quickly surmise He is talking about His Father. What happens next is disheartening. The servant who was forgiven the great debt found another servant who owed him a small debt. He choked him and had him thrown into prison. When the second servant’s friends saw what had happened they told the king. The king was not happy! He spoke harshly to the first servant and had him thrown into prison to be tortured until he was able to repay his debt. But wait! The debt was too great to pay. Exactly!
Before I finish explaining my attachment to this parable I want you to know I don’t live in constant fear of God. Jesus has cast out fear and I can approach my Heavenly Father in full assurance of His grace. I don’t deserve His mercy, but He has offered it freely on the cross of Calvary. On the other hand, I do fear God. I fear what might happen to me if I deny His mercy. Every time I am tempted to hurt others because I think they owe me something I remember the words of the second criminal at Calvary when he chastised the first: “Don’t you fear God?” (Luke 23:40) I also remember the words of Paul to the Roman Christians, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom 12:17-19 NIV)
Therefore, if I have been forgiven an impossible debt at Calvary, who am I to torture others for the harm they inflict on me? This has always been a challenge for me. Maybe it is because I have some clannish Welsh blood in me. My father’s people are from the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. Do you think the history of violence in that part of the country was all about coal and moonshine? Well, perhaps these things contributed to the problem. But mostly, a long memory is bred into my Appalachian kind. We are willing to “live and let live”, but we don’t forget.
But when my sinful human nature comes to the surface, the words of the criminal pierce me, “Don’t you fear God?” I don’t live in fear, but I fear living in fear. I am convinced if I refuse to pass God’s grace along He is going to hunt me down. And God has no problem finding us when the need arises.