Matthew 18:21-35

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the unforgiving servant. Jesus tells us that “this is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like,” as He does many times. So what’s it like? It’s about forgiveness and it’s about compassion. I love the phrase, “moved with compassion” that we read in today’s story. There are other translations that use the term “pity” instead – “moved with pity.” But I don’t believe that is the proper term.

Compassion is more about suffering with someone. Pity is just feeling sorry for them. And I don’t believe that is all Jesus experiences when He looks upon those He loves, no matter how wretched. And now we have Jesus using the expression when describing a king who forgives an enormous debt incurred by one of his servants. From this phrase alone it can be understood that Jesus is speaking of His Heavenly Father. He is the King who forgives enormous grievances made against Him.

So the Kingdom that contains a merciful king who forgives others who have no  hope of repaying the debt, as well as merciful people who should go and do the same to others is what Jesus describes and also what He expects of us as believers. Go and do the same: forgive, preach the Gospel, heal sickness, treat everyone as you want to be treated. Do these things because the Kingdom of God is among us. Jesus said that, too.

I know how difficult it can be to forgive those who have slighted us. It is for me. But the merciful Lord of life forgives everything. And so can we. With His help. Just like we need His help to forgive, we need His help to love others as we love ourselves and to pray for our enemies and those who persecute us.

But I’ve done it and so can you. And the amazing thing is, what is difficult and almost impossible at first, gets easier each time I pray. And each time I ask God to love through me when I don’t think I can love someone who hates me, He does. It gets easier to love them. I find I am “moved with compassion” which is when the prayer for that person gets easier. And then it doesn’t matter if they “hate” me; I don’t have to respond in kind.

In fact, I don’t have to respond with anger or wish them any ill will at all. Then I find peace and love shines through. And love envelops the person, the situation, me. Be merciful, as our Heavenly Father is merciful. (Luke 6:36) I’m not saying I’ll get it right every time or that I’m in any way able to do this effortlessly every time. But I will keep trying and I will keep relying on God’s love for me to do what He asks of me. It’s the only way. Jesus is the only Way.

The unforgiving servant who gets sent to prison (he really sends himself there by his actions!) says to the servant who owes him so much less that he owed the king, “Pay me what you owe me.” But the sad thing is, he is owed nothing. We are owed nothing.

Mercy is given to the one who seeks forgiveness. I believe it is also for the one who is lost, seemingly hopelessly lost. The one who deliberately ignores the kindness and love of the King is the one who is punished. Or more correctly, is the one who receives the right consequence for his or her actions.

I think that maybe we are owed precisely nothing by ourselves. Zilch, zero. God loves us, but He does not need us. He loved us into being and He is owed everything. We are made in the image and likeness of God with His Divine spark within us. That’s why we deserve mercy and why we should forgive. The grace poured into our hearts give us a peace and joy no one can take from us.

It’s a bit of a paradox. When we treat others with the love and mercy and with the dignity and the compassion that He deserves, though we are owed nothing, we receive everything that is necessary. We receive more than we could ever imagine.

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