Jesus told a story about forgiveness that pokes at my heart and conscience every time I hear it.1 It tells of a good king whose accountant brought to his attention that one of his servants owed him an enormous amount of money, something to the tune of billions of dollars if measured in today’s money. An amount so huge that there was no possible way this servant could ever repay the debt.
The king summoned the servant and demanded payment. When the servant told the king he could not repay the debt, the king commanded that the servant’s family be sold into slavery till the debt could be reconciled. The servant pleaded for mercy, and the king’s heart was moved and he forgave the debt. No payment plan, no penalties, but a straight-up wiping clean of the record. The servant was free, a debtless man. I imagine he felt the way I’ll feel when I make my last mortgage payment, only so much better!
But this servant’s jubilation was short-lived. As he left the king’s court he happened to run into an acquaintance who owed him some money, about a month’s wages. Somehow forgetting the great mercy he had just received, the servant felt no compassion and foreclosed on the debt this acquaintance owed, sending him to debtors’ jail.
One of the king’s friends witnessed these events and reported everything to the king. Again, the servant was brought before the king.
“How could you not have shown forgiveness when you were shown so much mercy yourself?” The king was angry. “You will be cast into prison until every penny of your debt has been paid!” I always imagine that the king then released the man who owed the smaller amount of money and forgave his debt, because that seems to be the heart of the king.
Each time I hear this story, I regrettably recognize myself in the servant’s actions. Too often I am like the servant who would not forgive. Through Jesus’ death on the cross, He atoned for and forgave my sins. It simply makes no sense not to forgive those who have wronged me as I have been forgiven of so much more. “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return.”2