It’s “favorite parable” week on the porch, and I’m going to tell you about one of my favorites. But, before I go there, I wanted to say a word about
the wonder of how our brains are hard-wired: to understand one thing in terms of something else.
For instance, I recently heard a poet describe loss like this: Grief is a purple gorilla. What a crystallizing image. I begin to understand grief in a much clearer, deeper way because of the brightly colored primate on a tear through someone’s house and heart, don’t you? What if the poet had said, grief is big, unavoidable, dangerous and terrifying. Would that have driven the point home in quite the same way?
Christ chose to teach in parables. He used everyday items and common occurrences to reveal God’s kingdom because He knew (and knows) how our minds work: There was a woman who had ten coins, there was a judge growing weary of a persistent widow’s plea, there was a man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, there was a Pharisee and a Tax Collector who entered the temple…
When I was a little girl, maybe six or so, I somehow ended up with a soft, little Arch book like the kind we had on the weathered shelves of the Sunday School classrooms of my childhood. Maybe my mother bought it for me at a garage sale or maybe she had borrowed it to prepare for a lesson and forgot to return it: it was worn and the glossy white pages were greying on the ends.
I can remember being in a quiet place and reading the book to myself. In my memory, it seems like it may have been one of the first books I ever read to myself, and it was certainly the first time I chose to read a Bible story on my own … and let me tell you, it hit me over the head like a two by four. I was thunderstruck. Here was this scruffy looking man who pleaded to the king to forgive his enormous debt and spare his family from becoming slaves. The sovereign king looked down upon him and had mercy. He forgave his debt completely and sent him on his merry way. He was footloose and fancy free. He was saved! Just moments later, the servant ran into someone who owed him money. He grabbed him, choked him and demanded to be paid, and when the person pleaded for patience and a little more time, the servant had him thrown into jail! Of all the gall in the world!
I can remember wanting to cry, or feeling something like glass breaking inside of me when I read that book quietly to myself in my little pink bedroom. It hurt to see how blind the servant was. How ungrateful. How unmoved he was by the mercy that had just been shown to him. I felt ill, dizzy, and furious. How could he? How could he possibly?
Maybe I had the faintest sense, even at that tender age, that I was the unmerciful servant. Maybe my vague realization of this is what moved me to such horror. Maybe I had some idea that I would sin over and over, condemning others when nothing but Grace and Mercy had been showered upon me. Maybe the story, like so many of Christ’s gems, was a mirror for me to take the time to gaze into. Maybe the grown up in me knew that I had to look up and see…
I still can hardly read it without wincing, cowering and wanting to plug my ears with my fingers. But I suppose, that’s the point. The parable begins with Peter asking how many times they should forgive their enemies, and it ends with a warning: we must forgive our enemies from the heart. This is not something we can bypass in life if we’ve been rescued and restored by Christ.
Here’s the parable. May you be blessed as you read it, dear friends!
The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:21-35)
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.[a]
23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[b] was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[c] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
For more info. on Beth Webb Hart’s novels go to www.bethwebbhart.com