It always puzzled me, in the parable of the wicked servant, how he was forgiven such a huge debt and then turned around to show no mercy whatsoever to his own servant who owed him money. That huge disconnect never made sense, and when the parable came up in our study this week it got me pondering again. We talked about it in small group, surmising motivations and reading between the lines of the story to get at the heart of the man… and then someone said it and there it was, as clear as day: “He didn’t appreciate the gift he himself had received…he was not thankful for grace.”
Jesus’ story is an answer to a question about forgiveness, and He makes it very clear that our forgiveness of others springs from the recognition that we ourselves have been forgiven of a debt we could never repay: “ten thousand talents,” a figure of speech in those days to refer to an incalculable amount, beyond comprehension. Oddly enough, right in the middle of the story is our word…the servant pleading, “Have patience with me, and I will repay you everything,” which of course he never could in a lifetime of trying, but there we find patience linked to trespassing on another’s rights.
We often use patience to talk about waiting, especially if the lines are long and the children are small. We easily think of irritating circumstances that make life more difficult, times when we need to stay calm and put a smile on our faces. But God ties patience specifically to people who step on our rights, thwart our desires, owe us debts– people who need forgiveness. Paul writes that because we belong to God and are loved by Him, we should wear patience like everyday clothing, “bear with each other and forgive one another.” This is what grows when we live in God’s presence, our fresh-start identities giving us a new framework for relating to the people around us. The church-planter echoes the underlying foundation of Jesus’ story: “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13) Gratitude and joy in God’s gift of salvation spilling out into compassion and kindness toward the debts of others.
At the start of a busy week, I know I need patience; I need the Holy Spirit’s constant reminder of how big grace is, and how undeserved, of the depth of God’s love, and the broad scope of His plans, if I am going to “put up with people even when sorely tried” (Alan Cole). Gratitude is the place to start.
“A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” (Proverbs 19:11)
**Read the entire story of the servant who didn’t understand grace in Matthew 18:21-35.