A certain nobleman

A grain of mustard
The marriage feast
The sheep and the goats
The ten virgins
The unforgiving creditor
The wheat and the tares
The good Samaritan
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The Unforgiving Creditor

Taking stock is something we are all engaged in. Most businesses have to prepare some form of annual report and those of us who get involved in this realise how little has been done at the right time. How many plans we made but never completed. Our optimism of a year ago was not realised. I'm sure we all know the feeling well, whether in business affairs or in our personal lives.

Of course, the annual accounting to our superior at work is usually more traumatic than our weekly or monthly taking stock when we get our salary. Then we add up our bills and hope we end up in credit. Our short term plans are easily adjusted. The longer we leave it the more difficult it becomes. Perhaps we do not take stock of our lives sufficiently often.

In his parable about the Kingdom in Matthew chapter 18, Jesus is pointing this out to us. He is relating God's plans to our own plans so we will understand. God is also giving us a warning that when Jesus returns, there will be the greatest accounting of all time. As we read in the book of Acts:

`Because he (God) hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.' [Acts 17.31]

Perhaps a little preliminary taking stock of our lives would be in order. This is especially true when we consider that God created us. He has given us everything we have and as Jesus tells us in Luke's gospel record:

`So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.' [Luke 17.10]

We are unable to give God anything that He does not already have, or that He does not deserve, or that He has not previously given to us. That day of account could look pretty bleak when we consider the words of Jesus in another parable: `Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness.' [Matthew 25.30]

However, the parable of the unforgiving creditor, not only gives us warning of a day of account, but also instructions about what to do so that we may have hope. We may even look forward to our Lord's approval if we do well. Instead of taking stock at the end of our lives, we should take stock weekly, or even daily. God, the Creator of night and day has divinely appointed the periods of time for our benefit. He took stock of the creation on the seventh day and as we shall see, this prefigured the final stock-taking after 6,000 years.

Jesus told the parable in this way:

`Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellow servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.' [Matthew 18.23-35]

In the parable, the unprofitable servant threw himself down and worshipped his lord. He acknowledged the debt and asked for mercy and forbearance. We read that `the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.' [Matthew 18.27]

Jesus related this parable as a way of telling us about the coming day of judgement and this gives us hope. There will be a need for love and compassion to be shown to God's servants on that day. In the parable, the Lord's mercy was a result of the servant realising his own worthlessness and declaring his debt to start with. The rest of the parable shows us that mercy is conditional on our behaviour now. The servant went out after obtaining forgiveness and cruelly demanded repayment of a small debt that was owed him by a fellow servant. His demand for payment was violent, ruthless and implacable. He threw his debtor into prison, in spite of the man begging for mercy with the same words as he had himself used to his own creditor:

`Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.' [Matthew 18.26,29]

How amazing that he did not recognise himself in the one who owed him a debt - but that is typical of human behaviour. We see others' faults much easier than our own. The outcome was predictable and in the parable the merciless servant eventually received no mercy.

A LESSON IN FORGIVENESS

But this parable has a powerful message for us as debtors to our Creator. Jesus told the parable in answer to Peter's question:

`...Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?' [Matthew 18.21]

No doubt Peter, wishing to appear forgiving, suggested a large number. He might have expected Jesus to compliment him on following the Sabbath principle which the Jews used, resting every seventh day and allowing the land to lie fallow every seventh year. [Leviticus 25.4]

Thinking about this more deeply, according to Jewish law, all debts were cancelled after 49 years, or seven times seven, when they had a jubilee year:

`And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.' [Leviticus 25.10]

To forgive someone's trespasses 49 times sounds ridiculous. It was therefore not only a surprise to Peter, but to us that Jesus replied:

`...I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.' [Matthew 18.22]

Four hundred and ninety times to forgive someone is incredible. In reality it means indefinitely. There should be no limit or end to forgiveness, just as there is no end or limit to God's forgiveness of those who repent and try to do His will. This message was not just an isolated event in the teaching of Christ. We see it in the Lord's prayer:

`And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.' [Matthew 6.12]

It is also in the explanation that follows:

`For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.' [Matthew 6.14,15]

We also understand it in the way Jesus replied to the question `which is the great commandment in the law?' He replied that the first commandment is to `love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind', and that the second is to `love thy neighbour as thyself'. He emphasised it by concluding, `On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.' [Matthew 22.36-40]

That is how important it is to be merciful, loving and forgiving. That is a major characteristic of God himself and it is not surprising that God requires it of His servants. Upon the development of this characteristic hangs our own acceptance, when Christ returns to judge the earth, like the king in the parable.

SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN

There is one final, subtle point in the parable that would not be lost on the Jews. They were looking for their Messiah, because they knew about the prophecy of Daniel called the `seventy weeks prophecy', or more precisely, the `seventy times seven prophecy.' In it, Daniel was told that it represented the time allowed for God to bring about everlasting righteousness:

`Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.' [Daniel 9.24]

They had considered the details of the prophecy and realised that the Messiah was due to arrive at this time. For the 490 (70 x 7) years prophecy, on a `day for a year' principle, had been primarily fulfilled with the coming of Jesus. It seems probable that 70 times 7 was also a secondary prophetic time period for God to complete His plan in the future. Therefore when Jesus used it in his reply [see Matt 18.22 on previous page], they must have understood that he meant they were to forgive each other until the kingdom of God is established. Then the earth will have its own Jubilee in a millennial (1,000 years) time of rest.

As the writer to the Hebrews puts it:

`There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest...' [Hebrews 4.9-11]

That time, we believe is very near, when the final reckoning will commence. We hope that, by reading the Bible and obeying Christ's commandments which he addressed to all of his followers, we will obtain forgiveness when he comes to take account of his servants.

What about you?