[Matthew 18:21-35] Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Forgiven Much and Many Times
How much and how many times? How often? “Up to seven times?” “No”, Jesus says, “but seventy seven times.”
Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wishes to settle accounts with his servants. As he settles accounts, there is a servant who owes him “ten thousand talents.”
Ten thousand talents. These are not “talents” like when you’re good at somethings. Talented at floor hockey, or talented at math. No. A “talent” here is a measurement of money. We have dollars and cents. They had “talents” and “denarii” and other measurements of money.
A denarius – the plural is denarii – was a day’s wage for a laborer like the servant in this parable. A denarius a day. This servant owed his master ten thousand talents. So how much did he owe?
Doing the math – which I didn’t do; but historians have – doing the math, ten thousand talents is equal to about 200,000 years of wages for a laborer like this servant. Quite a debt!
The point is this: It’s an un-payable debt. His works will never pay it off. Yet it is owed. So, he will lose everything. It will cost him his wife and children – and he will still owe. Unending years after his death, he will still owe. He will never be able to pay it. He will never be able to say, “It is finished”.
This “debt” Jesus speaks about isn’t about money. “Debt” is used as a word for sin in Scripture. As in, “Forgive us our debts…” [Matthew 6:12; Luke 11:4]. The debt is the debt incurred by our sin. We owe a price because of the wrongs we’ve done – and because of the wrong that we are.
There really is a God. We are created. God really does call us to account. He settles accounts and demands payment. It is right and just. We owe God our obedience to His will, His commands. Not our own ideas.
We are in ever increasing debt as we continue to fall short: “None is righteous, no, not one… All have turned aside… no one does good, not even one.” [Romans 3:10-12,23-24]
We owe a debt – a price – for our wrongs in thought, word, and deed. God has created body and soul, mind and emotions, speech and everything else about us. He commands what we are to do and what we are to be. He is judge of our whole person.
The criminal owes. The person who has done wrong owes. And we owe God.
Ten thousand talents. Two hundred thousand years’ wages. An un-payable debt. You cannot work your way out of it. You cannot bargain your way out. And God is not the God we make in our minds who fits who we are. God is the God He is – and He is right and just.
So what is there to do? Is this a forgivable PPP loan or a student loan? Or does our debt to God really require payment? Is there just a more lenient payment plan? Or, does God become our coach to coach us out of it?
Jesus continues with His parable, telling us what the kingdom of heaven is like: Since the servant could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
His master had pity from the heart. Mercy. He didn’t say, “Pay what you can. I’ll cover the rest.” The master forgave His servant in full. He loved him. The debt was gone. The servant owed nothing more. It was finished.
How? Payment is not forgotten. But God Himself provided the payment when He provided Jesus who willingly satisfied the debt with payment of His life. Instead of you, Jesus – the one who tells this parable – voluntarily paid the price.
On the cross, Jesus offered up His perfect life as the God-pleasing sacrifice in place of your imperfect life. And, on the cross, He suffered the full payment owed for your wrongs. On the cross, having paid what was was owed on behalf of the world, Jesus said, “It is finished.”
It is finished. Yet, the servant in the parable, having been forgiven so much, then went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundred denarii. One hundred days wages –not a small amount. But it doesn’t even compare to what his master had just forgiven in him.
Yet this servant will not forgive. And, in refusing to forgive another, he forfeits the forgiveness he had received. So will it be for “every one of you,” Jesus says, “if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
The point is not to say that the sins committed against you are a small matter. The point is that what Jesus is asking you to forgive in others does not compare to what God has already forgiven in you.
It is a weightier matter that I’ve sinned against God than that someone has sinned against me, a sinner who deserves hell. As God has forgiven, I also must forgive.
Joseph, in our Old Testament reading, is a man shaped by this love and mercy of God. Joseph was greatly sinned against by his older brothers who, when he was a teenage, threw him into a pit, faked his death, and sold him into slavery.
Later in life, through a course of events, Joseph became a powerful man in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. In those later years, and after their father died, Joseph’s brothers feared him, certain that he must hate them for what they had previously done.
But Joseph, instead of hating them, wept for them, saying, “‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good… So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”
Our Lord Jesus is a man like Joseph, yet even greater. He is betrayed by our sins – yet He says to us, “Do not fear – My death is for your good – I have all authority in heaven and earth to take care of you and your little ones, and so I do.”
Jesus has forgiven us our un-payable debt of sin, and so we also are to forgive those who have sinned against us – much and many times – and are to care for one another. Amen.
Pastor Curtis Stephens was born in Flint, MI. He completed his M.Div. at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN and has served congregations in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Pastor Stephens began serving at Trinity in July of 2023.