Reading Matthew 18:21-35 (NRSV)
Today’s parable bothers me.
In the story, debtors and those incurring the king’s displeasure could suffer enslavement, imprisonment, or torture. Perhaps these were common themes in Jesus’ time.
Harsh treatment is also common today. We jail people who cannot pay bail, detain refugees fleeing danger, and haggle over medical treatment for undocumented immigrants.
Maybe harshness in this story provides greater contrast for the real focus. Jesus tells this parable in response to Peter’s question about forgiveness.
God’s forgiveness is like the king who shows more mercy than the slave requests. Instead of just giving the man more time, the king forgives the whole debt!
But then the slave goes out and throws someone else in prison who makes the same request!
Through this story, Jesus indicates that God has forgiven Peter more times than Peter imagines. And yet, Peter responds to that forgiveness by counting up how many times he must forgive someone else!
Without forgiveness in our lives, the consequences can be spiritually if not physically harsh. But God forgives us wholly and completely. We can save others from similarly harsh consequences if we do likewise.
Let us pray. Forgiving God, thank you for a relationship marked by a clearing of debts. Without your forgiveness, our spiritual debts can imprison and enslave us. Because you love and forgive us, we are free to share mercy with our neighbors. May we acknowledge your gift of freedom by freeing others indebted to us. Amen.