"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path". Ps 119:105
PARABLES OF THE KINGDOM
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
To forgive someone's trespasses 49 times sounds ridiculous. It was therefore not only a surprise to Peter, but to us that Jesus replied:
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:
It is also in the explanation that follows:
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:
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:
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?