The King and I
Lesson for July 28, 2005 — Matthew 18:21-35By Carmen Andres
Once, there was a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. One of them owed well over a billion dollars. The servant couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the servant, his family and his possessions to be auctioned off at the slave market to recoup some of the loss. The servant, however, begged for more time, and the king took pity on him. The servant’s debt was erased.
This servant, however, turned around and proceeded to collect on a debt of just a few thousand owed to him by another servant. When this servant could not repay the debt, the first servant ignored the pleas for another chance and threw his fellow servant into prison.
When the king got wind of that, he was furious. “I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy,” he told the first servant. “Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?” Disgusted, the king threw the first servant into prison for the rest of his days.
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart,” Jesus says, after telling this story (Matt. 18:35). The Message says God will do the same to “each of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.”
From the heart? Unconditionally? How do we do that?
On our Father’s coattails
First, it helps to realize that, left to ourselves, we simply aren’t able to forgive unconditionally from the heart.
Just before Jesus told this story, his disciples asked how to achieve greatness in God’s kingdom — how to live the kingdom life best. Jesus called over a child and told them that they must become as little children in order even to get into God’s kingdom: “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3-4).
New Testament professor and author Michael J. Wilkins points out that, in Jesus’ day, children were vulnerable and powerless, with no rights or significance apart from what they could contribute to their families’ work forces: “The child can really do nothing for himself or herself and will die if left alone.”
Jesus, says Wilkins, celebrates this humility. Like little children, we must acknowledge we can do nothing for ourselves. We are utterly dependent on God. Only by his mercy and grace — rather than our own efforts, accomplishments or power — are we given new life, transformed and brought into his kingdom. Only by his mercy and grace do we begin to live the kingdom life.
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