The parable of the unforgiving servant

Gospel Reading: Mt 18:21-35
Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.

Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.

When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt.

Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”

As many as seven times?

Implicit in Peter’s question is the understanding that one may forgive a wrongdoer a few times, even as many as seven, but not more.

In reply, Jesus tells the parable of the Unforgiving Servant, showing the stark contrast between a master’s attitude and that of the servant whose huge debt is forgiven. The master shows mercy, but the servant forgets his being forgiven and is quick to harass his fellow servant, having the latter jailed despite his plea for mercy.

How often do we treat others harshly, forgetting that we ourselves have been beneficiaries of God’s kindness and mercy? Jesus tells Peter to forgive not seven times but seventy-seven times, that is, without limits. This seems an exaggeration, but it drives home the point: God does not put a limit to his forgiveness towards us, and so we must imitate God in this.

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SOURCE: “365 Days with the Lord 2016,” ST. PAULS Philippines, 7708 St. Paul Rd., SAV, Makati City (Phils.); Tel.: 895-9701; Fax 895-7328; E-mail: [email protected]; Website:

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