Matthew 18:21-35 – The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
Jesus makes the point directly and with the negative example of a parable that the exercise of forgiveness in the disciple community is to be extravagant and without limits.
The point about the exercise of forgiving in the disciple community is underscored by Peter’s question and Jesus’ parable about the unforgiving servant. When Peter’s “as many as seven times” would seek to apply limits to forgiveness, Jesus’ “seventy-seven times” implies that there is no limit to the community’s exercise of forgiveness on behalf of rescuing or preserving its erring members. The members of this community are not to be calculators, but ones open to the power available to faithful disciples.
The point is sealed by the negative example of Matthew’s unique parable of the unforgiving servant. A servant whose master forgives his enormous debt refuses to forgive the comparatively paltry debt of his fellow servant, thus failing to imitate the generous “mercy” of the master. The parable concludes with a warning regarding the reciprocal exercise of forgiveness that intentionally recalls the language of the Lord’s Prayer in the Sermon on the Mount: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (6:12).
21 Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church* sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ 22Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven* times.
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
23 ‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents*
28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii;* and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” 29Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt.
31When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister* from your heart.’