The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant - Part Three

Theme: Offenses and Forgiveness 
In this week’s lesson we see a man forgiven, but unforgiving
Matthew 18:23-27
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. “As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
“The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.”


The bridge to the parable is Peter’s question: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” (v. 21). The rabbis had been teaching that one should forgive an offense three times, but not beyond that. So Peter was probably thinking that he was going a long way toward mastering the spirit of Jesus when he suggested that one might actually forgive seven times.
We tend to look down on Peter for misreading Christ’s mind, supposing that we would do better. But Peter was at least asking the right question. He realized that it was right to forgive and that he had an obligation to do it. He was trying. Do we try? To put it another way, do we forgive even seven times, not to mention the seventy-seven suggested by Christ? Can you think of anyone who, in the last week or month or year, you have consciously forgiven for the same offense as many as seven times? You may have, but you probably have not. So at least grant Peter something. He had only been in Jesus’ school for three years and had a great deal yet to learn, but he had at least learned this much. Some of us are barely matriculating in that school and are therefore quite far from graduating even from the rudiments of Christ’s teaching.
When Jesus told Peter, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (v. 22) he did not mean that we can stop forgiving the seventy-eighth time, of course. It was a way of saying that we should never stop forgiving. Then Jesus told this story.
A certain king wanted to settle accounts with his servants, so he called in one who had an enormous debt: ten thousand talents. It is difficult to estimate what that was worth, and it may only mean the largest conceivable debt, “ten thousand” being one of the largest common numbers and a “talent” being the largest denomination of currency. However, if we do estimate it, we get some interesting results. A talent was seventy-five pounds, so ten thousand talents would be 750,000 pounds. We do not know whether these were talents of gold of silver. But since Jesus is trying to exaggerate the contrast between this great debt and the relatively small debt of the other servant, we may suppose that he was thinking of the more valuable of the two talents. In troy weight there are twelve ounces to a pound. So we are now dealing with 750,000 times 12, or 9 million ounces of gold. Assuming that gold is selling at about $350 an ounce, we come to a figure of $3,150 million (three trillion one hundred and fifty million dollars). That is beyond our comprehension, which is precisely Christ’s point. It was an astronomical debt, entirely beyond this servant’s or anybody else’s ability to pay.
Since the servant was unable to pay, the king was going to have him, his wife, and his children sold into slavery and his goods sold on the market to reclaim as much of the debt as possible.
Hearing this, the man fell on his knees and begged, “Be patient with me, and I will pay back everything” (v. 26). He could not, of course, but the king had pity on him and canceled the obligation.
This man then found a fellow servant who owed him money: one hundred denarii. A denarii was a day’s wage for a common laborer, so that was approximately a third of a year’s wages. Assuming (in our terms) that a low wage might be twelve or fifteen thousand dollars per year, it was only four or five thousand dollars. That was a significant debt, but it was a pittance compared to the enormous debt incurred by the first servant. When the man with the smaller debt begged for time to repay his obligation, which he could presumably have done, the first servant hardened his heart and had the other man thrown into prison.
Others heard what had happened and told the king. He called the first man in, demanding, “You Wicked servant, I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” (vv. 32-33). Then, according to Jesus, the king turned him over to the jailers until he should pay back all he owed. The point is obvious: Christians must be limitless in forgiving others since God has been infinitely forgiving with them.

  • What two debts were owed? Why the contrasting amounts? 
  • Explain the point of the parable.

  • How quick are you to forgive—especially for repeated offenses?

  • We should never stop forgiving.