The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

Sermon preached September 12, 2020 @ Asbury

Small group questions are at the end of the sermon

Matthew 18:21-35

               Over the last number of weeks, we have been focusing on the stories that Jesus told – his parables. From them we have been learning what God is like, what the kingdom of God is like, and sometimes what we are like. Some of the stories are uplifting – like last week. The kingdom of God is like finding a treasure in a field. There is a lot of joy in finding a treasure. Some of the parables are challenging, like the one we are looking at this week. This story is often referred to as the parable of the unmerciful servant. But one thing I love about Jesus is that he deals with real life.


               If you live long enough on this earth you will struggle with forgiving someone for what they have done to you. Most of us are able to let go of most offenses easily. We tell ourselves that the person didn’t mean it, or didn’t understand what they were saying or doing, or they come from a background that causes them to be uncivil. But every once in a while, someone will say something or do something – and we are unable to easily let it go. Most of us will struggle with trying to forgive someone.

               It may be because of the size of the offence. If you were raped, or abused, then you are probably going to struggle with forgiveness. If you were really betrayed, or manipulated or abandoned, then you will probably struggle with forgiveness. If a person hurts someone you love, then you may struggle with forgiveness. If the same person hurts you the same way over and over again, then you will likely struggle with forgiveness

               And that is where we pick up our story.

Matthew 18:21 (NIV)

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

               You kind of get the feeling that Peter thinks that he is being generous by offering to forgive a person seven times. But Jesus tells him, no Peter that is not enough. In fact, I want you to keep on forgiving him. Jesus says 70 times 7. But he is not saying – Ok – keep track of the offences and when you get to 480 times – then you can stop forgiving. No, he is saying Peter you need to keep on forgiving.

               Now, if you are like me – I can imagine a dialogue that I would want to have with Jesus over this issue. Jesus that is just not practical. If a person keeps on offending me – they obviously must not care about me. So, why should I keep on forgiving them?

               But I have learned over the years that Jesus is a way smarter than I will every be. He gets that, and he gets that question. He also gets the questions about forgiveness of abuse and betrayal and abandonment. So, he tells us this story.

               He starts off, the Kingdom of Heaven is like – He is saying this is what happens when God comes close and his will is honoured and done. – and as you might remember God wants what is best for you, so here is what happens when you live out what God knows is best for you.

               Here is the story. There is a king who is owed a lot of money by a servant. Now when I say a lot of money, I mean a lot of money. Forgive me for a moment while I get technical – but I think it might help.  It says 10,000 bags of gold in the NIV. The Greek word is 10,000 talents. Now one talent is worth 6000 drachma. A drachma is what a labourer earned for one days work. So, this servant owed the king 60 million drachma. We are talking a pile of money.

               The king was demanded repayment – and the guy could not pay. The king, according to the law ordered that everything he had be sold, including his wife and kids and that be put towards the debt.

Matthew 18:26–27 (NIV)

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

               What I want you to note is the emotion of the king. The king took pity on him. The Greek word has the idea of compassionate pity. It wasn’t just mercy. It wasn’t just compassion, it was pity. He saw the situation of the man of the man and he had pity.

               Forgiveness often involves pity.

               The king gave the man more than he asked for. Instead of giving him more time to pay the debt, he cancelled the debt all together. So, the man left the king forgiven.

Matthew 18:28–29 (NIV)

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

               Now when it says the servant owed him 100 silver coins – the Greek word is drachma. Again, a drachma is a days labour. So, this servant owed 4 months worth of work. What would that be in todays terms. Let’s just say $20,000.

               I don’t know about you, but $20,000 to me is a significant chunk of change. This is not an insignificant debt. It is only insignificant when the 100 drachmas is compared to the 60 million drachmas the other guy owed.

               Jesus is not trying to pretend that what you need to forgive is insignificant. Depending on size of the offence it can be a huge chunk of emotional change. But what Jesus is saying is that compared to what you have been forgiven – what you need to forgive is small. (even though to us it is emotionally huge)

               And here is the challenge, most of us don’t believe that about ourselves. We don’t believe that we have been that bad. Oh, we might have stolen a few cookies, and told a few lies, and got wasted and did some stupid things a few times – but we don’t believe we are 60 million drachma worth of bad.

               In fact, I have known more than a few people who believed that what had been done to them, was a way worse than what they had done to God. As a result, we don’t really think we need pity, maybe we need a little mercy and a little compassion – but we weren’t really that bad to start with.

               I know a lot more people who know that is theologically wrong, but to them it is emotionally right.

               So, let me help you reframe this for you. The people who have sinned against you, hurt you – I get that. But your sin against God killed him. That is how bad it was.

               But it was only a small lie, or medium indiscretion. But the way we rate our sin as small and medium are in relationship to other people’s sins. The only time the bible gives sin a colour – it is called scarlet. Scarlet is in the red family. So, imagine the bigger the sin the deeper the red – Mine is scarlet, your is Mohogany, some of you are so good, you are blush.

               And most of us don’t get how deep sin runs in us. The older I am the deeper I know my sin runs. I sometimes love other things more than God. I want comfort more than God. My anger that I try to pretend is righteous is really self serving. I judge others without judging myself. I see my own motivation and actions and even my best actions are sometimes tainted by sin.

               But imagine that God painted the canvas of his creation in beauty. What he painted was worth more than any Monet or Michael Angelo. What your sin has done is painted what ever your colour of scarlet across his beautify creation. You have vandalized a 60 million dollar painting. – But we have insisted on saying well our sin isn’t that red in comparison to others – but in comparison to the painting we were to be we were a mess.

               But God comes along and says, I forgive you for vandalizing my painting. I forgive you for wrecking a 60 million dollar painting. You have right standing before me. I have brought you into a relationship with me.  

               More than that. With your sins forgiven, you have right standing with me – but the sin that still warps you – I now see that as an opportunity for me to work on that painting with you. It is an opportunity for growth and development. We are going to make something beautiful together.

Back to our story

               You vandalized the whole 60 million dollar painting. The other person has vandalized a small portion of it. And here is the thing about someone else vandalizing your painting – Here is the thing about someone who sins against you. Their paint only sticks if you refuse to forgive.

               So, the king heard the story of this servant for whom he had just forgiven a huge amount, had been exercised his right to throw another servant in jail for a significant but relatively small amount, the king was angry.

Matthew 18:32–33 (NIV)

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’

               He calls the man wicked, although what he did was perfectly legal. He says shouldn’t you have had mercy, or shown leniency to the person who owed you money? God sees it as immoral for you to be forgiven much, but then to be stingy with your forgiveness.

Matthew 18:34–35 (NIV)

34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

               What does that mean that God is going to treat you the same way as the king treated the unmerciful servant, if you don’t forgive? I think the best way to explain it is that God gives you over to the unforgiveness and unforgiveness has a way of bringing pain to the heart.

               Unforgiveness often turns into bitterness, and that has a way of poisoning a heart. Unforgiveness often turns a heart hard, and that colours all relationships not only the relationship with a person you have a grudge with. Unforgiveness has a way of grinding at your heart, stealing your joy and your peace and zapping your life. Unforgiveness doesn’t hurt the person who sinned against you, it hurts you. It is like you are handed over to the torturer.

               So, let me just talk for a few moments on how to forgive. Forgiveness is not saying that what was done was OK. If it was ok, you wouldn’t need to forgive. Forgiveness does not excuse the offense. Forgiveness looks the cost of the offense, and says I am going to let it go. I am going to choose to forgive.

               Forgiveness is a choice. It is a choice to let go hanging onto the offense. It is a choice that says I am not going to dwell on this in my own mind. I am not going to bring it up to others. I am going to let this offence drop into the hands of God.

               When someone sins against you, when someone offends you, they owe you a debt. They took a piece of you. But in forgiveness you are saying, I let go of that debt and I give that debt to God. God you can accuse them – I am let go of this into your hands.

               Just because you have forgiven someone, you are not required to trust them. Trust is earned. Just because you have forgiven someone does not mean that you have to protect them from the natural consequences of their sin. If the offense was criminal, you can forgive someone but still have them charged for what they did. But you are going to let the offense drop from your mind and heart.

               Now here is the thing about forgiveness – If someone wounded you because of what they did, you can forgive them, but that doesn’t heal the wound. What they did still hurts.

               But your forgiveness, has a way of bringing Jesus resources to bear on your wound. I have watched Jesus go into those places of the heart and heal the hurt that was there – and bring peace. I have watched Jesus take people to an emotional place of safety, so that they could move forward in their lives. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

               You may remember that this parable started out by saying “The Kingdom of God is like.” This is what happens when God comes near. This is what happens when God’s will is done. You are set free.


               As I have been speaking, I wonder if God has brought someone to mind that you need to forgive. If you are a follower of Jesus, you have been forgiven so much – will you choose to forgive.

               Here is a prayer that you can pray.


 Lord Jesus, thank you for forgiving me for so much. You know that – name the offender – sinned against me. You know how much they hurt me. I choose to forgive them. I release them and the offense into your hands. Lord, you deal with them as you see fit.

               Now Lord come and heal my heart. You see the wound. Cone and step into the hurt and bring healing.

Sermon Questions: from Sunday September 13th, 2020

Matthew 18:21-35


1. What are you grateful for this week?

2. What would you like prayer for this week.

Digging In.

3. Quote from sermon. “If you live long enough on this earth you will struggle with forgiving someone for what they have done to you.” – Has that been true in your experience? Is there an instance that you would be willing to share?

4. Read Matthew 18:21-35

5. Re-read Matthew 18:21-22. What does this tell us about forgiveness? How does what Jesus said work out practically? (Think if someone offended you 30 times – how would you work through that?)

6. Jesus tells this story to make a point. He uses number like 10,000 talents, (60 million drachma) and 100 silver coins (100 drachma). In this story we are the ones that owe God 60 million drachma, and people who offend us owe us 100 silver coin. How is that true?

7. Read Matthew 18:26-27 – The master had pity. (not mercy) How does this relate to our sin and salvation?

8. Read Matthew 18:28-31. Did the man do anything illegal by throwing the debtor into prison? What does this say about forgiveness?

9. Read verses 32-33. The master calls him wicked. What does this tell you about unforgiveness?

10. Read vs. 34-35. What does it mean that we will be tortured if we don’t forgive?

11. How to forgive – from the sermon

Forgiveness is not: saying what was done was OK.

Forgiveness is a choice

Forgiveness is dropping the debt the offender owes you into the hands of God

Forgiveness does not mean trust. It does not mean protection from consequences.

When you forgive someone there is still a wound.

Take that wound to Jesus for healing

If there is fear that came from the wound – ask God to give a place of safety in your heart. 11 a. How could you walk someone through steps of forgiveness?