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The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 23 Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 27 Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. . . . –Matthew 18
Part One (link) sought to show how our American minds can be derailed by details: “How do we account for this huge debt?” But the “shock and awe” of 10,000 Talents in Jesus’ day serves to grab the attention of Jesus’ listeners.
If we stay on track with this parable, we come to the clear lesson at the end: “We are in no position to repay our debt to God or to ever be able to work off that debt. We can only beg for mercy. And in the face of our outlandish debt which has been forgiven, it is equally outlandish that we servants should spurn God’s mercy by demanding the full payment of a pittance owed to us by any fellow servants as we close our ears to their pleas for forgiveness.”
In our day when self-centered therapeutic forgiveness bumps Christ-centered Biblical forgiveness off of the tracks, we need to clearly look at the context.
Leading up to this parable, Jesus teaches about sin and forgiveness. Verse 15, “If your brother sins against you,go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother…”
This prompts Peter’s question in verse 21, ‘Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”’
Which leads into this parable of the unforgiving servant.
A parallel teaching in Luke 17 brings clarity to what we, in our day, often miss about Jesus’ instruction:
Verse 3f, “So watch what you do!If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. 4 If he sins against you seven times in one day, and each time he comes to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
It is this plea for mercy, the repentance, that is often left out of this picture by confused Christians in our depraved world. As Jesus clearly teaches, repentance precedes forgiveness, both ours before God, and our brother’s before us.
And whether seven times or seventy times, the forgiveness is unlimited, BUT not unconditional. Jesus: “…if he repents.” (If he does not, we are commanded to take additional steps to regain our brother.)
Also, take note that Jesus is teaching about relationships between ‘brothers,’ between fellow Christians. When it comes to enemies, Jesus never says anything about forgiveness. He says to love them. And that love may lead to their repentance.
This topic of forgiveness has become more confused among many Christians than today’s confusion about love.
We need Christian disciples (i.e. learners) who will go back to the Bible and be taught the basics, and then disciple others. For a fuller discussion of this topic which focuses on the Text and draws on the best of key evangelical resources, see Chapter Three of:
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Let us finish this year strong rather than in decline. The world around us is in great need of the light of Christ.
Wishing you all a Blessed and Fruitful Christmas Season.
Soli Deo Gloria
…One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” –Matthew 22
In my lifetime, I have been blessed to hear or learn under several noted Christian teachers. The one lesson, which has made the most difference, is centered on the word “and.” D. Elton Trueblood called this “the holy conjunction.” He emphasized this in key areas like Christ’s humanity and divinity; roots and fruits; the inner life of devotion and the outer life of service.
From the beginning of the Church, there were always those who failed in the struggle to hold these key essentials together. We see this in John’s first epistle. The church to which he wrote had divided. Under the strong influence of the spirit of the times, some Christians rejected the idea that the Messiah came in flesh and blood. They saw the world through dualistic lenses: In its essence, matter (e.g. flesh; that which is created) was evil; spirit was good.
One such contemporary of John’s was Cerinthus who distinguished between Jesus, the man of flesh and blood, and the Christ, the spiritual being who, he claimed, descended upon Jesus at his baptism and departed before the crucifixion. Cerinthus’ dualistic view did not allow suffering for spiritual beings….
When Jesus was asked which was the foremost commandment, he replied, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
“…And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’”(Matt. 22:37, 39).
Again, we have the holy conjunction–“and.” To claim to love God but to not love our neighbor, or to try to get around Jesus description of a neighbor as illustrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan, is to enter into a sort of heresy.
First John states it thus: “He who says, ‘I know him’ and does not keep his commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him…
“He who says he is in the light [divine], and hates his brother [flesh], is in the darkness until now” (2:4, 9). (Keep in mind the dualistic view of those like Cerinthus.)
Love of God and love of neighbor make up the whole counsel of God, so that Jesus said, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:40).
We need to keep alert here and heed a warning: while “and” holds together different aspects within Christian teaching, we need to beware that it can become the “unholy conjunction” when we try to combine Christian and non-Christian worldviews. C. S. Lewis illustrated this through the mouth of his diabolical character, Screwtape. In Letter XXV to his underling demon, Screwtape advises Wormwood about his strategy which he has devised against Christians:
What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call “Christianity And.” You know—Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must Be Christians, let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing.
The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart—an endless source of heresies.2
From Introduction to Love, Prayer, and Forgiveness: When Basics Become Heresies
The Gospel lesson of Luke 19:1-10 is about a very short man, Zacchaeus, who wanted to see Jesus. In the current lectionary of the Russian Orthodox tradition, this is the last Sunday Gospel lesson before the pre-Lenten Sundays (and the Lenten triodion) begin their cycle of scripture pericopes. (This is one point at which the Russian and Greek Orthodox lectionaries differ resulting in the fact that during the course of the year not all Orthodox read liturgically the same Scriptures every Sunday). In current practice for those who read the Zacchaeus pericope it has become already associated with the beginning of Great Lent. This was made certain due to the popular writings of the liturgical theologian, Fr. Alexander Schmemann.
Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he…
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Attractions in 2015
These are the posts that got the most views in 2015.
- 1 Teaching Children the Ten Commandments September 2012
- 2 Love…When Basics Become Heresies March 2014
- 3 In The Beginning May 2012
- 4 Christ’s Coming: 1 Thessalonians vs. ‘Left Behind’ May 2013
- 5 Two Swords: Enough June 2012