The Harsh and Inhumane Servant

The Gospel Parable of the Forgiving Master and the Unforgiving Servant, Matthew 18:23-35

At that time, Jesus said to Peter,

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.

So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.

But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and   besought him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you   besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

St. John Chrysostom (d. 407AD) writes:

Great is God’s loving kindness and beyond all telling: when the servant practiced his wiles in playing the suppliant, he released him from his obligation; but when he saw him proving harsh and inhumane, then he revoked his characteristic generosity for the future to show him through the events themselves that he had wronged him more than he had his fellow servant. Just as he had thrown his fellow servant into prison until he paid what was owing, so likewise the master handed him over to the torturers until he should repay his debt in full. These words, however, about talents and denarii he did not speak idly; instead, his words are about sin and the immensity of our failings, so that we may learn that, though we are due to pay a debt to the Lord for our countless faults, we receive from him a remission of them on account of his ineffable love. If, however, we prove harsh and inhumane towards our fellow servants and our peers and those who share our nature with us, and do not cancel the faults they commit against us, but rather act badly on the grounds of those peccadillos (after all, whatever the difference between a hundred denarii and ten thousand talents, so much the greater the difference between our sins against the Lord and those done us by our peers), then we will call down on our own heads the Lord’s anger, and for the debts of which we have received remission we will force him to require strict accounting under torture. You see, for us to learn precisely that the Lord constructed this parable for the benefit of our souls, listen to this epilogue: ‘This is what your Father in heaven will do to you if each of you does not forgive his brother his failings from his heart.’ Great is the gain from this parable, if only we are prepared to heed it; how could we extend as much forgiveness as is extended to us by the Lord? Whereas we extend forgiveness to our fellow servants – and then only if we are in the mood – it is from the Lord that we in turn receive remission. Notice also the precision of the expression: he did not simply say, If you did not forgive people their sins, but what? ‘If each of you does not forgive his brother his failings from his heart’. Notice how he wants even our hearts to have the good fortune to enjoy peace and quiet, our thinking to be undisturbed and rid of every passion, and ourselves to demonstrate great loving kindness towards our neighbor. Elsewhere too you can hear him saying this: ‘If you forgive people their failings, your heavenly Father will also forgive you’. So let us not think when we do this that it is to someone else we are doing a good turn or bestowing a great favor on them. It is we ourselves, after all, who reap the benefit of our good deed, and accord great gain to ourselves from the action, just as, if we fail to do it, we likewise do not manage to wrong them but lay up for ourselves the unspeakable torment of hell fire.” (Homilies on Genesis 18-45,  pp 178-180)